Happy hour: Last orders for liquid lunches?

Bar manager Gordon Douglas pours a pint for a customer during the lunch rush: but is the trend on the wane?

Bar manager Gordon Douglas pours a pint for a customer during the lunch rush: but is the trend on the wane?

A generation ago, people on lunch breaks would imbibe alcoholic beverages like there was no – well, no work to return to.

When I asked my long-suffering superior, only half in jest, whether I could down a pint with my lunch for "research," he responded with a frown and a statement of reproof.

But, a generation ago, one suspects, he would have accompanied me.

The epoch of boozy lunches, sometimes called "liquid lunches" or "long lunches", have disappeared after reaching their peak in the heady 1980s and the tend is definitely on the wane, according to Steve Matthewman, head of Sociology at Auckland University.

He ascribed the decline of liquid lunching to cultural and economic societal shifts.

"Some of it is to do with the tables turning throughout the Western World ... we've gone from largely high-employment economies, pretty strong labour unions, workers in a much stronger position, to a time where employment' is a lot more precarious.

"Bosses and management have much more of an upper-hand. Workers find themselves under a lot more scrutiny these days."

As a corollary to this, many people – especially young people – can't afford to indulge in a pub-drinking culture at all, let alone at lunch time.

However, he said, the shift is not necessarily a bad thing.

"It's also about the increased salience of health and safety now. People are really knowledgeable about drink driving and the health effect of alcohol – that took a long time to entrench.

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"Maybe society is also becoming more individualistic ... the other element I wondered about is the whole sort of rise of gym culture, looking good, staying in shape, that's at odds with downing eight pints at lunch time."

As society becomes more multicultural and chauvinistic male traditions dissipate, pub culture goes with it, as our colleagues are often more abstemious and less inclined to aspire towards the 'pub with the lads' culture.

However, Matthewman warned, the decline is a double-edged sword.

"There's a lot to be said from a public health and safety viewpoint, but what might have been lost is camaraderie and feelings of togetherness. Things like this go, with nothing to compensate for them."

Matthewman recalls his father, who worked in construction, going to the pub at lunchtime with his colleagues. But today, people would think twice because of more stringent employment laws.

Alister Newton, a spokesman for Employment New Zealand said that the appropriateness of liquid lunching "really depends on the employment agreement that employers have with their employees".

"It is a good idea for employers to have a robust workplace alcohol policy that clearly states what is acceptable in the workplace, and what is not, and the consequences of not following the requirements of the policy."

However, the workplace policy should be designed to "ensure that the workplace is safe".

"An employer should provide employees with the highest level of protection from risks as is reasonably practicable. A risk includes dangerous behaviour resulting from drug or alcohol use."

In many workplaces alcohol is considered a risk to be managed rather than an innocuous way of blowing off steam, and is often treated accordingly – more workplaces than ever, especially in labouring jobs, are making alcohol tests mandatory.

Gordon Douglas, who manages Arizona bar and grill, has a different perspective.

Douglas has worked in hospitality for 20 years, 14 of them in Scotland, and believed New Zealand's culture of drinking at lunch time has come to emphasis quality over quantity.

"There's a real pride in New Zealand product here ... New Zealand beer and wine, in particular, are of such a high standard that people will buy one drink and enjoy it," he observed.

This means his customers will ask questions about a products ingredients, location, colour, flavour profile and, crucially, the alcohol content.

"At the beginning of my time here, people would go for the commercial product, one pint of lager could turn into more ... now, people know what they're drinking."

The upshot of this is those who chose to liquid lunch, Douglas said, do so in moderate and safe quantities.

"It's the quality. People are drinking safely these days ... bars stock inclusive ranges of alcohol products to cater to every taste and percentage."

While the advent of getting inebriated at lunch is long gone, he said, people still drink at lunch – just differently.

He estimates 60 per cent of customers who come in for a lunch meal will order a beer to accompany it, with an increase on Fridays. 

However, customers no longer treat themselves to an alcoholic accompaniment on a daily basis.

As Matthewman noted, increased knowledge of the negative effects of alcohol has led to New Zealanders cutting back on the grog in all aspects of their lives.

But the lunch time beer might not be vanquished yet.

Douglas said that New Zealanders should "be proud of the quality of the product you have and love – other places are years behind".

What better way to celebrate that distinction by having the odd pint with lunch – just keep it to one.

 - Stuff


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