I still remember my first. Hugh Williamson, MD of The Alden Press in Oxford, took us (Lyn Chatterton, Arthur Foulser, Paul Kshatri and me) to the Coach and Horses in Trumpington. It must have been 1972 or ’73. This was a significant event — lunches were usually offered only to senior managers. Hugh was a very nice man, cultured and widely knowledgable. His book, Methods of Book Design, is a classic, providing a guide to book design from someone who was, as a designer, unusually well-versed in the details of the machines and systems used by book manufacturers. Like my own, tiny Book Manufacturing, the 3rd edition of Hugh’s book was written at the moment of transition from dedicated typesetting systems to the more open-source computer methodology we now know and love, and is un-revisable, as the transition totally changed the principal focus of production and manufacturing people. We used to focus on the output of the various typesetting systems, and have now moved to a more general system-based view of the job. Any revision would demand a complete rewrite, which he never got round to. Hugh could be counted on to lead a witty conversation over the shrimp cocktails and steaks which I expect we had along with a pint (or two) of bitter of course.

The printer’s lunch was/is a selling-tool. At lunch the sales rep would get to know you, and try of convince you that you liked him (later on, it would become him or her, but in the seventies reps were all male). Obviously the quality and efficiency of the particular company was important, but most were perfectly able to achieve a certain level of quality, with a similar schedule and a similar pricing structure, so feeling good about the company, and trusting its people became a vital point of differentiation. The “getting to know you” occasionally went too far — I remember one salesman I had just met spending all lunch telling me about his marital problems and seeking my advice as to whether he should leave his wife or not. I adjudged the intangible costs of dealing with that supplier excessive.

I reached New York after the demise of the three-martini lunch, though I did once fail to return to the office after a long and bibulous lunch with Sidney Wicks. (We managed to leave the restaurant before dinner service began.) But the lunches tended to be fairly extensive events, in good restaurants. I have to confess that the direct benefit to my employer was often hard to discern. To the extent that having a good relationship with your suppliers was useful, there was value, but at bottom my view of lunches is that they are social events — though that never stopped me enjoying them during business hours!

The sort of annual celebratory lunch which a few suppliers now offer, bringing together a wider group of employees from the supplier along with the staff of the publisher, fulfills a different, and more business-relevant function — and we are very grateful for them.