Returning for its 19th year, the world’s largest cocktail conference Tales Of The Cocktail will be running from the 20th to the 23rd of September.
Offered this year as a hybrid, digital and in-person event, the show is designed to advance not only the craft but also the culture of cocktails.
That aim this year will be supported by more than 60 digital seminars, 30 of which will be in panel format.
To discuss the educational aspect of the show further, we speak to Lynette Marrero educational committee co-chair, bar director at Llama Sans New York and Llama Inn, and co-founder of Speedrack
Tiff: Returning for its 19th year, the world's largest cocktail conference Tales Of The Cocktail will be running from the 20th to the 23rd of September. Offered this year as a hybrid, digital and in-person event, the show is designed to advance not only the craft but also the culture of cocktails.
That aim this year will be supported by more than 60 digital seminars, 30 of which will be in panel format. To discuss the educational aspect of the show further, we speak to Lynette Marrero educational committee co-chair, bar director at Llama Sans New York and Llama Inn, and co-founder of Speedrack
Thank you for joining us, Lynette.
Lynette: Hi, thanks for having me
Tiff: You're head of the business advisory committee. Would you explain the roles of the three divisions - Business, culture and Beyond The Bar?
Lynette: Certainly. I am the co-chair for business and I think what we really tried in the last few years to do was to really categorize the styles of seminars, so that way, we were able to have a nice, a broader selection of categories and also to evaluate them, I think, in a much more organized way. So when we're looking at the seminars to come into the business track the applicants who send in their submissions, choose what categories they think that their seminar belongs in.
And they could pick a couple because obviously there's going to be some crossover between business and culture and beyond the bar and business, for example. And then we, as the committee look at them and maybe sometimes pass some, from their first choice to a second choice just as we evaluated it.
But business it's focusing on all sorts of areas of the business of hospitality. I think right now we're looking at everything from direct to consumer, to entrepreneurship for bartenders, to launching brands, to basically the different management structures, all of those different topics. And Beyond The Bar, this is a really great, and it's more of a newer category that we've added in the last three years, is it's about all those other topics wellness mental health, wellness, physical wellness, and any other topic that really is about just really taking care of the hospitality community outside of our physical jobs.
And sometimes there's a crossover to a lot of these things. You'll take a look at what those seminars are like and see that they relate to the whole community and in different ways diversity inclusion and all these other topics that are really important that affect the bar, but are beyond the day-to-day operation.
For Culture, that is where our classic Tales Of The Cocktail seminars kind of fit in. Let's talk about rum as a category. Let's talk about the history of a style of drink. Let's talk about, more of those topics that are deep dives into specific cocktail and hospitality topics that you would think are a bit more fun - history, one-on-ones, and things like that fit in that category. So you have a really beautiful range of what the seminars are.
Tiff: What criteria need to be met for an education proposal to make it through to the show?
Lynette: I think what's been great is we have definitely given more resources and tools in the past year. I know there was a wonderful seminar that was put on social media with a few of the chairs, Claire Warner and Jackie Summers were included in that.
That we're just trying to help individuals really figure out where to put one, what category to submit their seminar to primarily. Our group went through a big overhaul of the application process to make sure that it was more inclusive and that we could give more questions and lean into people's strengths because I think it can just feel quite intimidating.
A seminar and feel like you have to have every detail there, and that's not true. You have to have a good idea and you have to have your concept clearly laid out. But the committee is there to look at the gems of ideas and sometimes, what happens quite a bit is, you might put a topic out there, that two or three other submissions have also. And it kind of, it makes sense that people gravitate towards an idea and a concept, and we were able to put some people together and actually have them work together on a panel with like-minded ideas. And I'm really excited to see the evolution of what those concepts are, or they're put on round tables.
So really, if you have an idea, you have something that you're passionate about. I think that's the first thing that comes through. We added this year video submissions, so people felt a bit more comfortable talking about it rather than writing it down, you were able to add that as an extra lift to your seminar, which I think was pretty, pretty great for that. So that just gives you just some ways to broaden your submission. And you don't need to have a sponsor, it asks do you have a sponsor, but that's not a qualification of the seminar going through. It's really the ideas, the passion, good name always is good, but honestly, if you don't have one and you're like, I didn't help with my name that is totally acceptable as well. So I think, just really the idea and the passion is most important.
Tiff: How difficult is it for you guys to go through all the proposals and actually work out what is going to be relevant and what isn't?
Lynette: Oh, it takes a lot of hours. We expanded our committees this year. So each group is larger, which is awesome because it really brings more perspectives. For some of our committee members, it was maybe 1:00 AM their time. I guess hospitality folks luckily, or can be late-night people.
But we go through and we really do discuss. Everyone first starts by reading the applications and had there's an internal rating system. So everyone gives them their own metrics. And then the seminars are ranked based on that initial assessment, and then we get the ranking of all the seminars.
The top 40 are highlighted in each track. Then we as a group go through all of those 40 and if anyone feels strongly about anything that didn't make the top forty to discuss, that's the time to bring it up and talk about those seminars. And that's just sometimes when someone judged something, you never know, the numbers can be varied and that's where this is a gut check, just to make sure that everyone who has a strong voice and, a strong opinion about something is able to share that and advocate for topics and ideas.
So then we have that call, which takes a couple of hours to go through. Then with the next phase is the phone interviews and those are executed by the chairs. So those are about six to eight hours of 15 minutes on a meet and greets with the different applicants who are in the top 40 and we talk through their ideas. Some people that's when we offer them an opportunity to collaborate with others, who we felt that they were going to make a great session together with and roundtables and that's where we also just get a little more insight.
Then we go back to another full, committed conversation after those calls with our evaluations, from the co-chairs written down. And then that's where we make our final selections. And then after that, then we go through, especially because the hybrid model, which ones are going to be prerecorded, which ones will be live during the week that we're doing it. Live on the digital as well, cause this is going to be accessible. So there's all that kind of different process. And that's when that happens. And obviously, we ask the people submitting, which the presenters, what they prefer and try to accommodate that
Tiff: quite a process.
Lynette: It's quite a process.
It's exhausting talking about it. I'm like, oh, I did all of that this year.
Tiff: Now, would you say there is an overreaching theme to this year's education?
Lynette: I think there was a big thought process involved with how we evolve the conversation of the pandemic and COVID-19. Last year, especially the timing, everyone was really just coming out of, lot of closures had just been lifted over the summer and more of the content when it was chosen was really focusing on deep pandemic and structures and the things that were being worked on at that moment.
And I feel that right now, the overarching theme is getting back to hospitality, evolving hospitality and what new systems can and need to be implemented as we come out and really start to reopen businesses. And what kind of things we also need to refresh in culture? What are the new interests? What are the top trends? How are those coming into play? And then with Beyond The Bar, further exploration of how to take care of the whole community, as we are all still healing and coming out of a very intense time. So I think it's really that next step and it was really great to see everyone looking at it from that perspective and having a future mindset, where I feel like last year was very much in the present.
Tiff: Now travel restrictions is still in place for a number of overseas countries. Has that changed the way you've approached the program or what's been included in it in any way?
Lynette: I think that's definitely is going to affect what live activations will happen. I think that we really put in a robust online program, to make sure that no matter what happened, we be able to have a very strong education program which is very exciting. So I feel like it's gonna, it's going to go off either way online, I think we had a great response last year. I'm very excited for part two of the digital and I think that made it more accessible and we had more viewers in a more international engagement last year, because we were able to open the doors, so if there's one, one positive part was having so much content that is really built on these platforms now that serve a digital community better.
But we're all looking forward to 2022, when we can hopefully have a real true hybrid. I really don't think from my perspective that digital is going away, because not everyone's going to be able to make it physically to a lot of these conferences and travel, and we should be able to have people to be able to participate and be a part of them.
Tiff: Do you think that offering the program digitally has brought people who might not normally have gone to trade shows in the past, into the fold?
Lynette: 100%? What I saw that I thought was interesting was a lot more people from different areas of the community started to get involved with it. So I saw more people from consumer packaged goods, the CPG world being able to tune in, I saw more people in kind of development and R and D parts of the community and industry joining in conversations.
And what I really loved seeing too, was a lot more higher up executives and even distributors and people who normally don't come down to Tales cause they're busy. We're able to jump in and pop into certain conversations. And I think that is a way of bridging some of these gaps into some of these areas where they can start understanding the culture of those on-premise and bars, and we start having a mutual understanding of what each area does.
Tiff: Do you believe that the education program is there for those new to the industry? Or do you think that people at any level can gain insight from the talks.
Lynette: I think that there is a balance of something for everybody.
I think the reason why it turned into the three tracks initially was to be able to really curate more programming that speaks to a broader audience. So you know, there's business topics that go from things that are more entry-level all the way up to very advanced. Same thing in culture, there are some one-on-one and conversations that someone who's new into the industry wants to take part in, but there's also some really deep and more complex conversations and that's across the board.
That was something that I was very passionate about when joining the education committee was to help usher in some of the styles of classes I would want to go to. I've been in the industry for a long time, but I don't know everything and I want to keep learning. And the kinds of things I want to have are deeper business topics, things where I'm really bonding with my counterparts in other countries and globally, and making those connections and learning from different ways of people are doing things and hopefully be able to use that and apply it to my day today.
Tiff: What do you want people to gain from the experiences of this year's education program?
Lynette: I think if you're reentering this community or you're new to this community, I hope that the education can be seed starters to how you want to join and participate in this industry. Or how you want to continue to proceed in this industry? I think there's some really wonderful topics that kind of address that. I was actually speaking to one of the panellists today who has a bar entrepreneurship seminar and there's lots of different perspectives and lots of different people on her panel who range inexperience, but they all quote-unquote pivoted to a certain side of the career that they weren't thinking of when they first got into.
So I think that there's lots that are in the education, that's going to give people ideas and I hope spark new business ventures or to solidify or help people decide where they want to spend more of their time in this industry and what kind of outcomes they want to have for themselves as they engage.
Tiff: Can you give examples of that?
Lynette: Yeah. So there is a really incredible on management conversation that we're going to have which I'm very excited about. It actually ended up being the hybrid of three different seminars and we have three different perspectives.
So one is Mika Koivula from I believe he's from Finland, Meaghan Dorman who is a bar operator in New York and has managed large groups for a long time, and Laura Green who is a licensed therapist based in Chicago who works often in occupational therapy about this more holistic way of managing the community. And the three of them are really going to be talking about how to be a better manager. What kind of systems you can put in place, how can you really help nurture and grow your team and give them opportunities and what that whole system can look like in a different way. So I think that is, is something that I'm really excited about.
Another one is alternative business structures. So looking at how bars and restaurants, whether they're started or if they're going to reform, how they're doing things when they reopened and can some of those places be more co-op that are owned by the team? Are there other incentives you can do, like profit-sharing with your team? So just really different ways of running and bars and restaurants, I think is really interesting as we work through coming back. So those are the ones that just stuck out to me as like really interesting seminars.
Tiff: So there will be talks that look at the pivoting that has happened and how to further that.
Lynette: Absolutely. It's business recovery, but also growth, I think would just what's great about a lot of the ones that I saw was that we were taking the next conversation.
And then there's a few really fun ones that are, like one of the conversations is finding the true cost of a cocktail, which is a really crazy topic, when we talk about that. Rethinking how we're pricing bars versus how we're pricing in restaurants is, an interesting topic. So I thought that was really a great panel. But there's, like I said, a whole host of really fascinating topics that we will discuss and seeing how people just had really bright. I dunno, there was just optimism about the future, but with a strong sense of change and forward movement.
Tiff: Now running the format completely online last year, what lessons did the committees learn from that? And how are they being applied this year?
Lynette: Yeah, we learned a lot there are a few more that are live this year versus being prerecorded. So the ones that really need some sort of engagement. They're also ones that if they are pre-recorded, but they have a Q and a session during the seminar, that's another kind of way that they have evolved because there is still engagement you can have, even with something online. I think we've all become more accustomed to zooming in and knowing how to chat and ask those seminar questions. So making them a little more interactive, I think was what we learned from going from digital last year. And obviously, we have a new platform that we're using, which we think is going to be able to service those changes they wanted to make.
Tiff: Now, I believe that you are actually presenting a few seminars yourself. Can you talk about those?
Lynette: Sure. I chose not to lead one this year, but I am involved in a couple of panels. One of them that I'm involved in, which is really fun, is Meet The Drink Trends Of The Year. And we're going to be talking a bit about what we're seeing as we get back to on-premise, what we've experienced in our bars and restaurants, what our consumer wants from us, how we're evolving and changing and what that engagement has been like.
And it's been a really wonderful time to reconnect with our customers and our guests. And I'm really excited about going to talk about what those shifts have been. And how, my team has felt inspired to do different types of things, how we present our information. People have been making cocktails at home, how do we keep them excited about what we're doing on-premise as well
Tiff: Now two of the biggest issues that I can see at least that the industry is facing is a staffing and also supply chain because both of those two things have gone out of wack. How were the seminars addressing those?
Lynette: We have one seminar that is definitely talking about the staffing kind of conversation and actually it's a wonderful panel that is going to be moderated by Kelsey Ramage and Amanda Gunderson, and I really love the way that they are working on their panel.
They are actually really using a lot of data from all over the world that have this discussion about the job and significant issues about the industry and staffing. And that goes down to also talking about mental health and wellness and job security and taking care of Hospitality in a different way.
So I think that's where those management conversations come in and how to change the business structure, but we do have one that is talking specifically about pay structure. And that's going to be led by Amanda, who is the founder of Another Round, Another Rally and Kelsey who is one of the founders of the Trash Collective and also working with the bartenders from the Benevolent Fund.
So they're really working on how tip pools work and just these other different structures that we talked about with how the industry needs to change a bit, and that's really just also, I think that other conversation about management and how you share, how you recreate new systems for your teams, whether its job opportunities, understanding and laying out upward mobility goals for them, all those things are related, really making sure that you're looking at it from a whole. That someone can start as a server, a bar back, but they have a trajectory within the company.
The one that I was talking about with Kelsey and Amanda is called Setting The Table and it's examining pay gaps, tipping cultures, and related industry challenges from a global perspective. So I'm really excited about that.
Supply chain this year. I know last year I had one about supply chains and starting a brand. We have a couple of sessions this year, one that's about one that is about the year, one of starting a brand. And how you really look at that idea, so I think it really tackles that because we are one of owning a spirits brand, especially now. It's going to teach you how to set up your expectations, where you should be and really understanding how you are reacting to, like you said, a lot of these different issues that, have just become a part of our system now,
Tiff: Aside from those, and maybe even outside of your committee, what seminars are you looking forward to and keen to see.
Lynette: There is an awesome panel. That's going to be a global panel that honours the legacy of Sasha Petroski - Method To The Madness. One of the last big trips I did globally was out to Australia and I got to go hang out at some bars that are owned by the former alum of Milk And Honey and the Sasha family. I always loved seeing how one person's ethos can really travel with the people who have taken it with them. So I love that there is a bar design operation and function seminar, which I think is going to be really cool.
I think that's great as people are rethinking how to open, change systems. There is in our Beyond The Bar, a conversation about breaking bias and disrupting unconscious decisions. So that again is something I think we always need to keep talking about and how that keeps evolving is really important. Some of the more interesting kind of ingredient driven conversations we have going on. There's a whole seminar about Cacao, which I think is a really cool one. What's being moderated by Charlotte Voisey and she's gone throughout the years to some really interesting topics. I think there was like one whole seminar she did a few, like several years ago that was just like breaking down citrus. So I'm interested to see where Cacao is coming into this conversation and how it talks about its origins and uses and why it's the conversation this year? I think it's really awesome.
Tiff: Okay. What do you see as the future of the Tales Of The Cocktail seminars?
Lynette: I hope they keep growing in the way that we're seeing where there's more of them. Like I said, I hope that they're still in the future some sort of hybrid in somewhat manner, where perhaps, there can be deeper conversations that go year-round based on the topics that are introduced.
I always think sometimes there's a really great a follow-up in three months for some of these conversations is really important. So when we look at some of these things, like new management structures and the pay gap, or checking in with people and how they're going, in two or three, four months and having more opportunities to keep engaging in the topics. So I'd like to see more follow-through and part two is to have different conversations.
Tiff: All right, Lynette thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us. Now, if people want more information, they can, of course, go to the website, which is talesofthecocktail.org or connect with the show via its socials
Lynette: Thank you. I really appreciate it. And I look forward to seeing you all out in the digital world and in just about a month.