Reading Vanity Fair's February 2012 feature, "Here's To The Ladies who Lunched" had approximately the same effect on me that an episode of "Mad Men" does: it made me feel wistful for a time I never knew, and am not entirely convinced existed. The article, written by Bob Colacello, conjures a time when "'lunching' was a verb" and "a high-society ritual" for powerful women like Jackie O. and Babe Paley, who frequented New York City dining "shrines" like Le Cirque and the Colony Club. Colacello illustrated how much times have changed by sharing how reluctant many of his interviewees were to admit to taking long lunches now. In the words of decorator Mica Ertegun: "People don't do that anymore. Everybody's too busy." And a slew of recent polls prove just how much the rituals of the "working lunch" have changed, especially for women.
Today.com reports that while dining out at lunch was once a point of pride, these days it's considered taboo. In such a competitive job market, spending a lot of time at lunch could suggest that you're not as committed to your job as someone who eats at work -- and female managers are the least likely to be caught leaving the office for lunch. Citing a November 2011 poll by CareerBuilder, Today.com noted that 57 percent of female managers said they brought their lunch from home, compared to 36 percent of men.
And it's not just women in positions of authority who are cutting back on lunch breaks. A separate poll of 1,000 employed Americans at all career levels conducted by Accounting Principals, a staffing firm, found that men are more likely to go out to eat for lunch across the board: 69 percent of men reported eating out daily, as compared to 62 percent of women.
The Accounting Principals poll also found that men who do go out for lunch spend nearly twice as much, on average, as women do on their midday meal, shelling out $46.30 per week to eat out, compared with $26.50 for the average women who buys lunch. There was even a gender divide when it came to coffee purchases: Men spend an average of $25.70 a week while women pay an average of $15.00 a week getting their caffeine fix.
Re-reading Colacella's piece in light of this new data -- while, admittedly, eating microwaved leftovers at my desk -- got me questioning the root of women's reluctance to spend money and time on lunch. Are we still reacting against the "ladies who lunch" stereotype in an effort to demonstrate to our male colleagues just how seriously we take our jobs? It's hard to believe that economic pressures are solely to blame for brown-bagging it, given that men seem to have less hang-ups around lunchtime spending -- though that could also be explained away by the fact that women still do most of the cooking at home (or perhaps that men, on average, still out-earn women and thus have more of a disposable income to spend on food). Another possibility: For women with families, is skipping lunch or eating at your desk just another sacrifice women make on the altar of "doing it all" in order to spend more time with their families?
What's your experience? Is leaving the office for lunch frowned upon at your office? If given the option, would you step out for lunch or do you prefer to eat at your desk? Tweet @HuffPostWomen with hashtag #LadiesLunch.
Follow Jessica Pearce Rotondi on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jessicarotondi