"Remember how it used to be? When a girl married, her mother would pass along all the old favorite family recipes. Today, they give a list of their favorite French restaurants." -- Comedian Ronny Martin
Remember when our mothers -- and possibly we -- dug out those family recipes for perhaps the bleakest of all social rituals: dinner for the boss? It was (a) a good investment and/or (b) a corporate-social necessity (or so everyone thought).
Today, women are spreading their collateral around with new careers, more responsibilities and expanding schedules. They and their husbands are apt to skip that rung on the corporate ladder. Or, at least they're finding more aggreeable routes up: Private dinner clubs, restaurants, improved job performance. Entertaining at their leisure, not on demand.
"I think people are tired of going to the trouble of putting on an elaborate dinner just for the husband's boss and eight people . . . What does the wife get out of it when she doesn't particularly enjoy these people? And it is expensive," remarks an Alexandria woman, known for gracious entertaining as the wife of a partner in a large Virginia law firm.
A while back, she said, the partners wanted to entertain prospective associates on successive evenings with get-acquainted/interview/meet-the-spouse dinners each would host.
"We (the wives) just hated the idea," she said. "I discussed it with my husband.We made other arrangements" (dinner at a private club and at some elegant Alexandria restaurants).
As late as 1975, rigid codes were still being ascribed to some women, however, which gave little choice in corporate gamesmanship. "The organization's private influence seems to bear most heavily on the wife," says "Man and the Organization" from the Time-Life book series.
"To begin with, she often must meet stiff standards if her husband is to be hired -- or get ahead," says the chapter titled "Strain on the Home." According to a survey of 50 American companies, notes the text, the wife's virtues are supposed to include cooperativeness, graciousness and the capacity to accommodate. Intelligence is not considered important, it is noted.
"As far as 'interviewing' the wife, putting her through drills, we're not doing it anymore," says Richard Lannamann, a 32-year-old vice president of New York's Russell Reynolds and Associates, an executive-recruiting service. Dinner at home is out, he says. Dinner in a fashionable restaurant is in.
"We've changed a lot. Whereas before, we might have used a business dinner to size her up, we now consider it a recruitment tool to persuade her that the company is attractive, interesting. The role of the wife in decision-making has increased. Let me change that," he says with a laugh. "Our appreciation for her importance has changed. People are just more sensitive to feminine interests."
After the hiring?" My guess is the boss still gets invited to dinner, but less often. There is less a feeling that the boss should be able to intrude on one's private life. And people don't seem to feel it's necessary to get the boss' eye."
"The ones who seem to get ahead here are ones with volume output," says a secretary at the Securities and Exchange Comission. "Everybody works long, crazy hours. But volume is the yardstick, not social ability."
Within the State Department, there's considerably more entertaining, but the rules are changing.
"In the past, senior wives thought nothing of telling us who we should have for dinner. I knew I would be expected to do it," says a State Department wife with 10 years' experience and assignments in the Soviet Union and Asia behind her. "I knew I was in training. But, boy, did I hate it.
"Protocol told us who to invite, how to serve, what to wear. How to deliver calling cards, for God's sake. And we weren't ambassadors, but State employes on assignment in another area."
Now, she said, rules have slackened for Foreign Service workers and demands are slightly less for wives. Depending on the assignment, women are now aided in job searches by the State Department job bank.
Employes' personnel records once included a section about the wife, judging such areas as "graciousness," "ability to serve." The wife's section has been deleted.
In the media, the issue of when, how, and indeed, if, to entertain the boss; no longer seems to be a hot subject."I'd say it's dead as an editorial theme," says Woman's Day assistant articles editor, Krystyna Biernacki-Poray.
Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown disagrees: "There's nothing dead about it. Fifty percent of success in anyone's life comes from being able to get along with people.
"I am the boss, but I like to be with people who are friendly, nice. And those who do it because they want to. People who influence my life most are close friends in the profession.
"I've always enjoyed doing it for my husband. For myself, before Cosmo, as a single girl, I would have people over in my little apartment. And it doesn't have to be fancy. Who says a big pot of homemade chili with fresh fruit can't be elegant?"
Advantages she sees are, "It can't hurt your business; it's even better if they're friends, and they can become that. Why discriminate against the boss?"
But as fodder for Cosmo? "Absolutley. I can see a four-page spread on the subject. Everybody in the business world that I know is still doing it. It's an important way to show off another facet of yourself."
For the more reluctant hostesses, are there still apt to be some professional ramifications?
"Well," admits a lawyer's wife, "my husband has confided to me that he feels you can generate more business, professional referrals, if you expand your circle on an intimate setting. Ideally . . . maybe . . . it could benefit him in the long run.
"Still, neither of us wants to do it at home." CAPTION: Illustration, "They're ALL the boss, dear. We're diversified." By Richter; Copyright (c) 1971, The New York Magazine, Inc.