As part of our Mindful Drinking Festival in November we organised an event on catering corporate events, aimed at managers in charge of events and caterers. The speakers at the event were Laura from Club Soda (on “What the new diet/drinking trends tell us”), Ounal Bailey from Wisehead Productions (sharing her “Insights from the drinks industry”), Antonio Ciavarella from Just Hospitality (talking about “How the catering sector can respond”) and Xenia Koumi from Business Healthy (on The City of London’s Christmas plans). This article is based on what we learned at that event.
An area often riddled with disappointment for mindful drinkers and non-drinkers is the non-alcoholic options available at catered events – or rather lack thereof. How many conferences or work events have you attended where there has been an endless array of alcoholic beverages, and at the end of the table a few glasses of orange juice? It’s time to shift that culture, the 80’s called… they want their OJ back!
But where does the responsibility for these choices lie? Caterers blame the clients for not requesting interesting alternatives, and clients claim that caterers don’t make these options available. All we know is that more often than not we are stuck at events with nothing but orange juice or water to drink. Water needs to be available to all, especially those that are drinking alcohol, so this certainly isn’t a thoughtful option for your non-drinking guests. How can companies start being more considerate towards all their guests?
As someone who is choosing to drink less alcohol or none at all, you often feel that you are also less important than those who are drinking, which is not what great hospitality is about. At an event, the objective is to make each guest feel that their needs have been carefully considered and met by their host. You would provide tasty vegetarian food for those with a meat-free diet. So why not put the same thought into drinks for those not drinking tonight? Provide something fitting for the occasion, for a mature palate, not just sugary juice or pop.
A visitor at our Mindful Drinking Festival raised the point that non-drinkers don’t all fall under one category either. Some are seeking non-alcoholic equivalents (such as alcohol-free beers and wines), whilst others are looking for completely alternative products. Care needs to be given to ensure that the needs of all guests are met with equal consideration. Wisehead co-founder Ounal Bailey reminded us that ‘One size doesn’t fit all. Gone are the days when the only veggie option on a menu was a salad, so why are we still treating our non-drinking guests with the same lack of consideration?’
There are many products available that present a mature flavour profile, and are great options as stand alone drinks or to mix with alcohol. These offer the best of both worlds and can be incredibly convenient to present as an option for both drinkers and non-drinkers at catered events.
The issue of providing appealing options for all extends beyond large events and into the workplace too. Many consumers have expressed that they feel pressured to wine and dine clients, and that often planned dry days will be derailed in these situations. We wonder if this culture of wining and dining is even relevant anymore, is it a myth that clients want to be wooed in this way? Were you to shorten these meetings so that people could instead leave at a reasonable time to go and indulge in a hobby or time with family, would this be preferable? Quite possibly.
The legislation around drinking and the workplace is very clear when it comes to job roles that have a safety element, for example operating heavy machinery. However, this becomes more vague when it comes to directing companies in how to create a safe environment in more office-based roles. Employers want their team to perform well and to be professional, but at the same time, don’t want to nag or interfere when it comes to workplace socialising and drinking.
Of course there are certain times of year when it’s even more challenging to avoid drinking in work situations. Christmas is fraught with work dos or post-work drinks, which can be a lot of fun. But it’s worth taking the time to consider how your workforce can enjoy the festive season without compromising their professional reputation and personal wellbeing. Giving equal weight to queues to nudge your staff not to drink as to drink.
Of course creating a better working environment and drinking culture is not just limited to the festive season. A great number of offices will have ‘desk beers’ or similar on a Friday, or perhaps a celebratory bottle of fizz when targets are met. On these occasions, does your workplace provide an equally exciting treat for anyone that isn’t drinking? Unfortunately, drinking can become so embedded in company culture that we often don’t think to do so. You could appoint yourself as an ambassador for the non-drinkers in your workplace and volunteer to find a good alternative for them at your Christmas meal, next off-site event or office drinks.
There is still so much work to do to ensure that events both work related and otherwise are inclusive of non-drinkers, but we hope that by getting this discussion going at our Mindful Drinking Festival we have given caterers, employers and event organisers at least some food for thought. And we will continue our campaign to swap the orange juice to something nicer for everyone!
Many thanks for London Essence for their support of the event, and showcasing their drinks!