The economics of the liquid lunch: City excess through the ages

The economics of the liquid lunch: City excess through the ages


1980s

It wasn’t what you knew, but who you knew in the 1980s, where wearing the right school tie counted for far more than, well, being able to count.

Philip Augar, a stockbroker at the time of the Big Bang, recalls of his first job interview for a research post: “I sat on a comfortable sofa reading horsey, country magazines for half an hour. Just before 3pm, a chap ambled in, clearly having enjoyed a good lunch, and asked a few introductory questions: school (grammar), university (Cambridge), contacts in the City (none), sports played (lots).

“I was on the alert: this was just to wrongfoot me and there would be a tough question on the economy any minute. But, no, the next comment was: ‘Well you seem like a decent type, so we’ll offer you a job. The time was 3.20pm.”

Doubts set in on the train home, however. “My interviewer seemed drunk,” fretted Augar. “Would he remember the offer in the morning?”

Of course he did.

1990s

With a few Ferrari-driving exceptions, this was largely a time of austerity (see 2008 to the present day). When the recession hit, “lavish following of avarice” started to become “socially unacceptable”, says one (slightly more sober) source.

2000s

Deals were back, and so was lunch – and bankers at Barclays knew they had raised the bar for City excess when even Bob Diamond, the financier branded “the unacceptable face of banking”, called their behaviour “embarrassing”.

Diamond meant the infamous lunchtime incident in 2002, when six Barclays bankers ran up a £44,000 alcohol tab at the Gordon Ramsay restaurant Petrus.

These vintages included a bottle of 1982 Montrachet priced at £1,400, and three bottles of Petrus Pomerol from the 1940s that cost between £9,400 and £12,300. Understandably, the restaurant threw in the food for free.

Then there was the last subprime-fuelled hurrah before Bear Stearns collapsed and took the rest of the world with it – best epitomised by Mipim, the real estate industry’s annual trade jolly in the South of France.

Liquid lunches were just for starters. Back in 2007, certain “networkers” at Mipim’s infamous parties aboard billionaire developers’ yachts started drinking at 10am and finished at 10 … the following morning, by which time they were “hardly able to stand up”.

They couldn’t blame it on seasickness. The boats were moored in the harbour.

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The Daily Telegraph’s City desk would love to hear any further tales of Square Mile excess over the decades. Please email harriet.dennys@telegraph.co.uk with any anecdotes.

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