Whether we regard the expense-account lunch as a nice little perk, a gross drain on company resources, an abuse of the tax system or the lifeblood of good restaurants, we all tend to think of it as a single entity. But it's not. Consider some of its varieties:

The Couldn't-Get-It-Done Any-Other-Time Lunch

At this type, people actually accomplish a specific task during lunch because they are pressed for time or can't mesh their schedules otherwise.

The Keep-Working-and-We'll Bring-in-Sandwiches Lunch

This is a tacky subspecies of the one above.

The Just-Because-We're-Friends Lunch

This is never described as such on an expense account, of course. It consists of lunching with someone "expensable" just because you want to, without conducting business. And it disapproves the old saw, "There's no such thing as a free lunch" -- from the point of view of the participants, if not of the tab-grabber's employer.

The Fictional Lunch

A business acquaintance whom I saw only once or twice a year used to phone my every couple of months and start the conversation like this: "You may not remember this, John, but you and I had lunch together last Wednesday."

For me these were the ultimate low-calorie meals, but they did leave a bad taste in my mouth.

The Pulse-Taking Lunch

This is more valuable than many suppose, whether it's with a customer, client or cohort. In the relaxed atmosphere of a leisurely lunch, you can often find out more about potential problems, intrigues or opportunities than ever emerges in the office.

This type of lunch overlaps at times with . . .

The We-Value-Your-Business-and-You Lunch

If suppliers, lawyers, consultants, ad agency folks or whoever do a good job for us, their performance should be enough, right?

Wrong. We all like to feel that we are important customers. And we all want to feel valued as people, besides. The invitation to lunch is a symbol of caring.

The Sales-Pitch Lunch

As a method of lowering your prospect's defenses and extending your persuasion time, this can be effective. But I wouldn't recommend using a table-top flip chart in a restaurant, as I witnessed recently. There's another contribution to the amounts of expense-account eating and drinking that goes on -- the so-called Protestant work ethic, which is downright catholic among executives.

In the office we quick-step to a very staccato march. We tend to be consumed by our immediate problems and our own expectations of efficient, business-like conduct. And this extends to feeling guilty about a "useless" lunch hour.

The purposeful lunch hour assuages this feeling. At the same time it's a ritual that imposes a different rhythm and a more personal and reflective ambiance than the office.

The fact is, while the really productive lunches may be in the minority, they could well pay for the rest.

If you don't agee, invite me to lunch and we'll talk it over.