I’m about to say something that could make me very unpopular among my colleagues.
Do we really need to drink so much in this drinks business?
Hear me out. Ask anyone who knows me how I feel about the consumption of alcohol — specifically wine — and they will likely describe me as an enthusiastic imbiber. No matter the time of day, I rarely turn down a tipple. In fact, I often can’t remember the last time I literally had ZERO alcohol in my day. My evenings and sometimes days include wine, as I do firmly believe in wine’s rightful place during a meal…and while preparing said meal… and of course while patting one’s full belly while reclining on the couch after said meal…and…and…
But, the more I have been thinking about the balance between the industry I am so passionate about — wine — and my other area of interest — wellness — I find myself wondering what responsibility we have as wine (or beer, or spirits) professionals to drink better.
What do I mean by this?
I have been traveling quite a bit for work lately, and hosting a variety of media events, all of which seem to include AM-PM alcohol. I cannot recall a work trip that didn’t involve what I would consider an excessive amount of drinking and, more alarmingly, a level of peer pressure to partake that comes oddly close to some college hazing rituals. We do liquid lunch. We meet for a pre-dinner drink. We share multiple bottles of wine over dinner. We then go out for more drinks after. Rinse, repeat.
“I cannot recall a work trip that didn’t involve what I would consider an excessive amount of drinking and, more alarmingly, a level of peer pressure to partake that comes oddly close to some college hazing rituals.”
I asked a few of my wine journalist friends if this was the expectation during media trips, and they all replied with a straightforward, “Pretty much.”
Wine sales trips are even more intense. And, as usually one of the only women at the table, it feels virtually impossible to not “keep up with the guys,” lest my gender create even more hurdles for me in this already male-dominated industry.
I was recently asked to book the Saturday morning flight instead of the last Friday evening flight because there was an understanding that we would be out late enjoying cocktails with our client. It often feels like a game of chicken, and I feel tempted to ask if anyone else is tired and ready to call it a night? But of course I don’t want to be the ultimate buzzkill, and the times I have started to hem and haw about going to another drinking establishment at 11 PM, my protests are met with the usual teasing and cajoling about not being lame.
“It often feels like a game of chicken.”
Don’t get me wrong. I like to overindulge every once in a while like the next person, but when we start to insist that this sort of ritual is essential to actually doing business, I worry we are beginning to tell ourselves an untruth. I would argue that, while enjoying cocktails or a bottle of wine in an industry centered on those very products is no doubt a big part of the way we interact as colleagues and potential partners, no deal I have ever done has hinged on those last few drinks at the end of the night. If anything, given the often early start times the next day, those late-night antics only serve to compromise my ability to focus, think clearly and, well, do my job.
“When we start to insist that this sort of ritual is essential to actually doing business, I worry we are beginning to tell ourselves an untruth.”
I want to challenge my colleagues in this industry to think a bit more critically about this culture of excess. By no means am I suggesting we do away with doing business this way, or blowing off steam with our colleagues a little bit later or a little bit more enthusiastically than we should while on work trips. But let’s please stop pretending that this is a crucial part of the sales or business development process.
I realize I am not completely innocent here. It is up to me — and anyone else who may feel this way — to (wo)man up and politely decline the night caps, holding our ground when pressed. Hopefully the more we collectively begin to embrace a life in the adult beverage industry that also stresses the importance of wellness, we will feel more supported in our decision to do so.
And, let’s start looking at ways to offset these rituals — for example, introducing wellness-focused activities, healthy meal options and allocated time for exercise into team-building and work travel. As leaders in our industry, it is our responsibility to champion a better balance here, and encourage moderation as the key to proper enjoyment of the products we are marketing and selling. I applaud the companies and professionals who have started to engage in this space and look forward to their continued communications and leadership.
And maybe, just maybe, we can do away with the dawn-patrol meeting start times after these late nights as well. I may not need to sleep it off, but I would definitely appreciate the extra time for a morning run or yoga session to set the tone before the wine.
How do you balance drinking for work?