Like other major events (The Bar Show, Aspen Food and Wine), Tales of the Cocktail has become an annual drinks industry event that is a heady mix of amateurs and pros, legends and novices, wannabes and never-weres, the good, bad, beautiful and ugly of the spirits world. If you're a bartender or bar operators, here are a few things worth keeping in mind when you consider the value you take away from such an event:
1. What CAN you actually do for me? You've undoubtedly tasted numerous spirits you've never encountered before. I'm looking forward to tasting what has been described to me as a sort of pisco/grappa-like spirit made from grapes, wine and pomace in Kyrgyzstan. But no matter how interesting or high quality a product is, your most important question to the brand rep is: "How will this help my business?" Spirits that arrive with a selling proposition or fill a niche that your customers desire go to the head of the line; but if your rep says something like, "This is the best spirit of its kind and the price is right — you'll make a killing on it with our deals," head for the hills because they don't know either.
2. I learned so much in that seminar — didn't I? Check your notes carefully, because you'll find that those little useful bits of industry wisdom, insight or practicalities tend to get swamped among the memories of smart and funny presentations that might not actually have any application in your bar. Not that everything, or even most, of the tales you hear at Tales of the Cocktail offer direct application. But do make sure to pull out the useful parts from your notebook or iPad before they disappear.
3. Follow up now. If you've got a stack of cards, get in touch with these folks as soon as possible, just to keep in touch. Even in the era of social media, networking works best when connections are secured early and often. It's not about job hunting or deal signing; the person-to-person aspect of the spirit business so evident in the most successful and pleasurable bars holds true at every level of the business, so build loyalty and contacts now.
4. It's STILL a bar. No matter who you meet and what your hear at Tales, most of your customers don't care and want the same thing they always have: good service, great drinks and a friendly welcome. The deep history explored at events like Tales of the Cocktail, as entertaining and clarifying as it is, doesn't usually translate much outside the biz, and if you find yourself for a few weeks repeatedly informing your customers that what they ordered isn't exactly what Jerry Thomas first made, then maybe you need to be reminded that your chosen field is a service industry, not the adult continuing-education field. Over-sharing is rarely admired, and bar patrons do not want to hear what's on your mind unless you're paying them for the privilege.