A growing number of Koreans now prefer to have a mild cocktail with their colleagues at lunchtime to free their evenings from enforced conviviality and have them to themselves.
The trend has come along with the shorter working week, which has enabled most office workers to head home at 6 p.m.
Also contributing to the trend is an increasing awareness of sexual harassment, which has prompted many businesses to cut back on alcohol-fueled corporate gatherings at night.
One chain pub in Yongsan is often filled at lunchtime with customers ordering the beer and pizza combo. Manager Ahn Jae-hyun said, "There has been an increase in office workers having gatherings over lunch instead of dinner, but the heat wave also contributed to rising beer sales this summer."
He said other branches that only open at 5 p.m. are now seeing only a handful of customers stop by after work for a quick drink and they are considering opening for lunch as well.Yoo Ji-hoon, manager of another pub in Gwanghwamun, Seoul, said, "We are now seeing groups of four to 10 office workers between 2 to 4 p.m. to have a beer while they hold a team meeting."
Office worker Lee Jae-won (37) said, "These days, bosses no longer give you a hard time if you don't join them for a drink after work. My co-workers are using their lunch breaks to throw birthday or other celebrations instead of holding them after work."
The trend has prompted a growing number of bars to open earlier and coffee shops to start selling beer and snacks. One coffee shop in the southeastern port city of Pohang has stocked up its shelves with imported beer and has gained a new reputation as a daytime bar.
"We noticed a lot of office workers asking for beer at lunchtime on Fridays," owner Kim Joo-yeon (36) said. "Very few customers drink more than two bottles of beer at lunch, and most of them just enjoy one, like having a coffee."
But doctors warn that the trend could bring its own problems. "People tend to drink more quickly during the daytime, and drinking with increasing frequency could end up becoming a habit," said Suk Ki-tae at Hallym University's Sacred Heart Hospital in Chuncheon.
Office workers have lunch together in a pub in Seoul.