Founded in 1997, Liberty Wines is an award-winning distributor of premium wines to the best bars, restaurants and retailers in the UK and Ireland. In this interview, first published on The Drinks Trust’s website, we talk to Clare Whitehead, Liberty Wines’ Head of Education, about how the company is embracing mindful drinking and supporting its staff to live well.
As a wine company, why did you think you wanted to train everybody about mindful drinking?
We love wine. It’s quite a cerebral product in our mind – it’s not just alcohol, it just happens to have alcohol in it. It’s really about so much more; people, history, geography and environment. And we wanted to give all of our staff a helping hand on being mindful about it so that they don’t ever get a problem and they can continue to work in the business in a healthy manner.
We had tried other courses on monitoring alcohol, but we found them focused on the harms of alcohol. We didn’t set out to look for mindful drinking, but from the moment we connected with Dru Jaeger and Club Soda, we thought, “This is it”. We wanted to offer something to people in the business that could be struggling to control their intake of alcohol.
So giving more approachable information about being healthy and mindful around alcohol really appealed to us.
Introducing mindful drinking at Liberty Wines
You made it almost compulsory for your staff through all layers of Liberty Wines. How does that work? And how did it go down?
We went to all managers and said, “It’s your responsibility as a manager for the wellbeing of your team. This has been put on for you. And I really want you to do this.” So Dru came in and spent a day and did back-to-back sessions so we could cover all the shifts, and we got through approximately 80%+ of the business with some people joining on Zoom.
We’ll probably be 250 staff by the end of the year. So it would be really good to have ongoing inductions on mindful drinking.
How do you think the sessions went down? And, bearing in mind that this is a group of people who work with alcohol, what was it about the tone that you think worked, what was the feedback from the staff like?
We made a few tweaks to Dru’s presentation because a lot of the information was about alcohol-free products, which is great but not necessarily something we were looking for; we’re about drinking better but less.
What really came across about the training was that it was really nonjudgmental. It wasn’t, “This is a picture of cirrhosis of the liver.” It was more, “Hey, this is the situation you might find yourself in. And if you don’t want to drink, it’s not a big deal. These are the ways that you can cope with that.” The focus was on the psychology of it, and that was really handy. It was just really flipping the narrative on drinking. A lot of people that really tuned into it really liked it, and people spoke about it very positively afterwards.
Support in the drinks industry?
There’s never been any formal training that the hospitality sector can trust to send their staff to if they’re worried about their drinking. This is why we’ve got the course with the Drinks Trust, because I realised that, at a push, some people would send their staff to AA, who would tell people to go be abstinent and give up their job. Do you think that trusted place is something that’s still missing from the sector?
I do for people that have a problem. With mindful drinking, we were checking everyone had the right back information. It was clear with the pandemic, some people have come out with heavier drinking habits.
Liberty Wines is a wine company, you work for us, so we have a responsibility to give you the tools to make sure that you’re in control of your drinking. I do feel that the industry needs somewhere to send people to, or for managers to signpost their staff to, that would help people navigate situations. If people in our business were to form unhealthy habits around alcohol, would they have to lose their career over it? Is there an alternative?
That’s great. The message I want to get across is that it’s okay to talk to your staff about not drinking so much whilst you still work with alcohol. I think the sector can be frightened about talking about that. We just need to not treat it as the elephant in the room – being mindful about how you drink will mean that you can keep a career that you want and not let it get out of hand.
Yes, absolutely. And I’m not saying we’ve got businesses full of people with major problems, but it’s about just pre-empting. Everyone’s very good at reacting when it gets bad, but let’s give people the tools to be aware before it gets there. I think it should be offered to all businesses, merchants, wholesalers, and hospitality, for sure.
Liberty Wines supports alcohol-free choices
It’s also about you as a company knowing that if somebody came to an event and said, “I’m not drinking today”, you wouldn’t treat them badly. That there’s an implicit view in the business that those are your choices, right?
Yeah, absolutely, it’s something we think about a lot. Many of our staff don’t drink – it’s Dry January, a few of our team are pregnant – and no one ever questions it. We’re really good at that, and it’s something that we work really hard on. What’s come out of our Club Soda sessions is we have a Good News email every Friday afternoon. It’s developed into having a no and low alcohol section and a self-care no and low tip about mindful drinking.
That’s fantastic. I love that that’s how you embody that as an organization, not just do the training and let it be done, but also integrate it into everything you do.
Support for drinks industry professionals
Club Soda works with companies like Liberty Wines, and with businesses across the drinks industry, to support more people to drink mindfully and live well. Through our partnership with The Drinks Trust, drinks industry professionals in the UK can access Club Soda’s courses free of charge. If you’re interested in in-house mindful drinking workshops or development sessions for your team at our central London Tasting Room, get in touch.
Club Soda also supports venues that want to become more welcoming places for mindful drinkers.