A few days ago, my wife and I re-watched The Office episode, “St. Patrick’s Day.” Toward the end of the episode, Michael Scott joins his employees at the bar, and collegially offers to buy drinks for a group of about nine coworkers. It’s a sweet moment, and a coda to an excellent episode.
What stuck out to me during this viewing was running the numbers on Michael’s flippant “drinks are on me!” Assuming that his coworkers are drinking beers or cocktails that cost an average of, say $5/pop, his offer will to a total of about $50 — a hefty sum, no matter how nice the gesture. For many people, $50 can easily be the after-tax, after-expenses comp for a day or two of work.
The phrase “drinks are on me” has obviously become just another idiom. It’s something we say in real life, and it’s something we see on TV. And while I haven’t spun through TV episodes to find other mentions, I have no doubt that I’d find frequent recurrences in Mad Men or Sex and the City.
But it’s a remarkably expensive phrase. If The Office were taking place in the city, or in a cocktail bar rather than a Poor Richard’s Pub, the refrain “drinks are on me” would carry a substantially higher price — easily $100 or more.
I wonder what that says about our collective approach to money, and to fiscal responsibility. Wine-lovers might debate at length the merits of a $45 bottle vs. a $50 bottle, but we’re all inclined to treat a group of friends to a $50 round of drinks when our football team scores a touchdown. We make these offers because we feel good, because we’re surrounded by colleagues, because we’re united behind some cause. It comes from a good place!
But it’s also a deceptively expensive indulgence, considering how quickly one might exclaim it. It’s become a real part of our jargon, both actual and cultural. What does it say about us, that we have a catchphrase for “let’s blow $100!”
Now, to be fair, The Office does devote an episode to Michael’s financial troubles — “Bankruptcy,” although his lack of financial acuity is a recurrent theme across seasons — in a way that directly ties Michael’s unwise financial decisions to a real consequence.
And so, in a way, it’s reassuring that, back in St. Patrick’s Day, Oscar the accountant brushes off Michael’s offer with “Put your credits cards away, it’s on us.”