The three-martini lunch is a term used in the United States to describe a leisurely, indulgent lunch enjoyed by businessmen or executives. It refers to a common belief that many businessmen have enough leisure time and wherewithal to consume more than one martini during the work day. Steaks or lobster are sometimes considered a staple of these lunches.
Business matters are often discussed at these lunches. The "three-martini lunch" is therefore considered a business expense (which includes travel, meals, etc.) and thus can qualify for a tax deduction.
The three-martini lunch is now said to be mostly extinct for several reasons, including the implementation of "fitness for duty" programs by numerous companies, the increased criminalization of alcohol misuse, a general decrease in available leisure time for business executives, and the social stigma attached to drinking during the day in the United States, although this is not the case in Europe.
Some specifically ascribe the demise of the three-martini lunch to Jimmy Carter, who condemned the practice during the 1976 presidential campaign. Carter portrayed it as part of the unfairness in the nation's tax laws, claiming that the working class was subsidizing the "$50 martini lunch." This was because a "rich businessman" could write off this type of lunch as a business expense (a 1986 law limited the meal-expense deduction to 80 percent. In 1993, businesspeople were only able to receive a 50 percent write-off). His opponent, incumbent President Gerald R Ford, responded with: "The three-martini lunch is the epitome of American efficiency. Where else can you get an earful, a bellyful and a snootful at the same time?"