At My Bars, We Support Brands Who Support Bartenders

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You know, I’ve been thinking about this story for a while now, and it’s really been bugging me, so I thought I’d get it off of my chest. Also, I have zero desire to name any names or start some sort of brand boycott. This is just a little look inside my head. Here goes:

Earlier this year, I was contacted by a big liquor company (okay, it’s never by the liquor company directly, but always through the agency they’ve hired to manage their interactions with the trade – but since these agencies are acting as the face of the brand, I see very little difference). The brand asked if I would join them for a three-day trip to an exotic location to experience the brand, tour their distillery or whatever, and generally indulge in the sights and be wined and dined on the company tab.

Here’s the deal: I’m getting older and these “free” brand trips can be really taxing on me. The schedule is fast-paced, there’s always a lot of alcohol and rich food, and then I of course have to miss out on several shifts behind the bar, where I earn my money.

While I used to take brands up on those very generous trips, I now have to politely decline, If I’m going to get on a plane, I need to be working and earning money, otherwise I’d rather just spend the time here at home with my family.

So I politely declined and informed them that I have a whole staff full of incredible, passionate, talented bartenders who would absolutely LOVE an opportunity like this.

The folks who offered kind of hemmed and hawed for a while and after some gentle pressure from me, they admitted that they were interested in having me on the trip because of my “name” and my “following”, but were going to ask someone else rather than engage with my award-winning team of bartenders.

As you can guess, I later saw on the old social media that the person they’d selected in my place was an “influencer” in the cocktail space, someone who had no professional connection to the industry other than a few tens of thousands of purchased followers.

Here’s the part that I hope people will share and take notice of: without making a big deal about it, without calling for a boycott or freaking out online, I quietly removed that brand from both of our bars permanently. I’m passionate about people supporting bartenders, especially the brands who rely on professional bartenders to pay the bills.

When you hire an agency who values hits and clicks and followers and posts over education and support, you’re sending a message to young, up-and-coming bartenders that you don’t value them. I’m trying to support the next generation of bartenders, and I’m going to do it with or without you.

Rant over. Thanks for listening.

54 Replies to “At My Bars, We Support Brands Who Support Bartenders”

  • Michael Blosser says:

    I’m dying to know the brand

  • Yeah, sorry. I’m just not interested in that sort of thing. I think it leads down a very dark path that lots and lots of people really enjoy going down, and I’d rather talk about bigger ideas than just finger-pointing.

  • Craig Rudewicz aig says:

    Yes. Thank you for using your influence for real positivity in the industry.

  • Kelley Fitzsimonds says:

    This is the best thing I have read in a long time, thank you!

  • Grace says:

    I learned that a local plant shop was only interested in hiring people who had a certain amount of followers. I value actual connection over social media in my life, and now, in my floral purchases.

  • Unfortunately the reason brands support(ed) bartenders is because we used to be the influencers of the final consumer. Thru brandloyalty they had bartenders influence their guests at the bar to choose for brand a or b. Now there’s a new sheriff in town… instasheriff.

  • Robert Simonson says:

    Well put. And admirably restrained. That’s pretty lousy, and short-sighted, behavior on the part of the brands. Tho, for my part, I wish bartenders, both stars and not, would stop accepting such trip for other, broader reasons.

  • Jon Olson says:

    The future is now! Thank you for these wise words. I believe in mentors – Not influencers.

  • Tim says:

    What if a brand were to have one of your staff out on a trip, and then you and the bartender did a blog on it from their point of view, but with you asking some of those questions about “How much info was given? How fast paced was the trip? Were you treated differently because you didn’t have the same influence? Etc…”

  • Adrian Guerra says:

    Loved the article. Makes me miss being behind the bar.

  • Joe Pereira says:

    Mr. Morgenthaler,
    I enjoy reading mostly everything you write. You give me meat sweats.
    Regards,
    Joe

  • I never feel the need to comment, but this one I back wholeheartedly. I love your mentality and I miss you OLD MAN!

  • Elizabeth says:

    Amen! Integrity over empty indulgence 🙏🏼❣️

  • Shana Race says:

    Great ideas and points Jeff! I’ve been thinking a lot on the subject of the big corporate brands bullying and buying their way into the back of our bars a lot recently. Is there such thing as a sacred bar anymore?!

  • May Lawrence says:

    Such a great read and it is wonderful you support your staff like that. When it comes to premium products, it’s not the instagram that will guide you to drink something but the bartender helping you choose your drink. If they are knowledgeable and invested in that product by the knowledge, that will push sales for that brand a lot more than some random lifestyle instagrammer having a photo of the bottle in one of their shots.

  • Balele Harry Shoka says:

    Good stuff Morganthaler, hope to see you at a Soccer ⚽️ match in Sacramento in the future, I know you, love this town…Cheers!

  • Balele Harry Shoka says:

    Morgenthaler- my bad.

  • I definitely appreciate this. I was just explaining to someone that I may need to slow down on these trips because the jam packed itineraries are starting to be too much for me and this article popped up. All of what you mentioned on top of not having a non work related “vacation” in almost 4 yrs.

  • Bjorn says:

    I’m a cocktail enthusiast that have done some pop up bar stuff for fun, but mainly stick to Insta and my day job. I’ve witnessed how some of the people I follow (both bartenders and happy amateurs as myself) and used to interact with a lot about cocktails and creative methods, reach a point where they are deemed “big enough” and suddenly get swooped up in the booze-mail-carousel with gifts and trips and suddenly become boring brand-robots and quickly loose their creativity. I really admire you, your statement and your affection for your bartenders, Jeffrey! Thank you for putting the focus back on the craft and skill.

  • Philip Duff says:

    Yeah, but no. There’s a lot of conflation and elision going on here, Jeffrey. First up – and only you know which brand it is – you article above creates the image of this brand as one whose sole outreach to bartenders is trips like the one you declined, when in fact they may also spend massive amounts of money on bartender competitions, education, seminar sponsorship, pop-up bars etc. Second, influencers, whatever you or I may think, are influential and very much part of our industry, regardless their background. Some of the most influential people in the bar & cocktail business have never bartended a day in their lives. Finally, given that you were replaced by an influencer instead of s bartender, it sounds like you had been invited on a press trip (because of your writing), not a bartender trip. These are two different animals. The latter usually means the brand or agency is tasked with inviting the people whose writing has the most influence. You can’t reasonably expect a brand or agency recruiting for such a trip to replace J. Morgenthaler (readership: whatever it is, I assume it’s high) with Bartender We Have Never Heard Of (readership: zero, doesn’t write), can you?

  • Trip Brennan says:

    Something that stuck out to me here was you describing missing bar shifts, “where I earn my money” – you’ve been bar manager at Clyde Commons for quite a while and you still make most of your money on tips/hourly?

  • Fede Cuco says:

    You’re right Jeff, Mentors who give a good example of behavior and work to young colleagues is what is needed.
    No influencers who take photos,(and who buy likes and followers) thanks for always being on the right side my friend.
    Hopefully the beverage companies read this article and change the way they handle it.
    A warm greeting from the far south
    Fede Cuco

  • Tom Martin says:

    Outstanding. Couldn’t agree more and LOVE that you pulled them.

  • Domenico says:

    Only one Word.
    GREAT!

  • Matt Carson says:

    Great mentoring on your part and great for standing your ground!

  • sparks says:

    Coming from literally being raised in a bar by my single mother who bartended my entire childhood, the industry is a special place. I grew up sweeping peanuts for coca cola and getting school clothes from the “regulars”. People who have never been in hospitality make the worst reps. I train our team to ensure they are saying hello to the person taking out the trash to the bar back to the bartender(s)…every one of these positions keep the bar running. It’s been a long road in the industry but I’m proud to say I dislike the word “influencer” because in my world of spirits we are ALL human with the same desires and needs. Thank you Jeffrey!

  • Fiona C Bruce says:

    Dear Jeffrey,
    Another great read! I thank you for this. And I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, I think this happens not only on a big scale but also small scale too. I’ve been working high volume for some time now ( I once served you beer at that bar, and that was cool) while trying to make contact with the big brands -I shall also not name-. My reasons being educational purposes. Shifts are so fast-paced at work, all you do is production. So, for me, an opportunity to learn about the brands I work with or want to work with in the future is crucial to evolve. I have sent multiple emails announcing my interest in any kind of workshops or masterclasses, and most of them have been bluntly ignored. And when I did get a chance to attend, because the manager couldn’t I was received with an “oh, what are you doing here?”.
    Looking at the crowd at these events, I see all the bartenders that get published, win competitions, and have a bunch of followers. But I ask myself, why would they ignore sincere interest and eagerness to be educated on the craft? I have never been interested in doing comps, or being in magazines, I just want to learn. But what if any of my colleagues are interested in such things? why don’t they offer the chance to learn to people that show genuine interest? It is beyond me.

  • Jason Horn says:

    If they want your name and your following, they can pay for it. Talent, experience, connections and, yes, influence, (which you too have), have monetary value. That should be the message here, not that people who post pictures on the internet are icky and bad.

    But also, there’s no point in calling out a brand for doing something shitty if you won’t name the brand. Have you reached out in private to them at least?

  • David says:

    I’ve learned that they often pay people to go on these trips, because they have social media followings (rather than work in the industry), which was news to me when I heard about that. For me these trips were always learning experiences, which you would take into your writing, cooking, baking, or bartending. When you see how something is made, you understand it better and can explain it to readers and customers. As you mentioned, the trips are always very (very) hectic with little-to-zero free time, early mornings, late nights, lots of travel, and lots of food (and drink). Thanks for speaking up on how brands are missing the mark by not focusing on people who could benefit most from a press/familiarity tour, in your case, the people who are standing behind the bar, who are talking to (and serving) customers.

  • Randy Baker says:

    Great article, Jeff!
    I really respect your integrity and your restraint.
    A few years ago, I was unable to restrain from posting something about the way a big company was basically forcing out little companies.
    And for someone who also earns the majority of my income from tips behind my bars, I really appreciated hearing from someone of your stature that you do the same.
    Cheers!

  • Fiona C Bruce says:

    I opt to contact smaller brands that focus on quality now. They depend on the education of the bartenders and consumers to survive, and are much more willing to give you -or whomever is interested-the info that you need to get there. It would be so good to have big and small brands operating like this though.

  • Michael Goff says:

    Thought provoking as always but the disconnect you’re describing is pretty simple to parse at the end of the day. That rep is in the KPI business, not the bar business. Is it short-money thinking? Almost assuredly. Does the quarterly business cycle of the big brands feed into this short- money positioning? Well yeah.

    I like that you effectively told that brand to pound sand in the way that you did. Let’s hope enough people start following your example and maybe just maybe we get a shift in KPI’s.

  • Mike says:

    I’m not in the industry, more of just a cocktail nerd, but that was a really interesting read about a side of the industry I don’t ever think about. Cheers!

  • Austin James says:

    Very classily put, and a great way to put a spotlight on an issue that most people don’t talk about. Thanks for keeping it real in an elevated way.

  • Good for you! We need to get rid of this Quid Pro Quo kind of mentality.

  • Great article. On the flip side, small boutique brands also find it complex to garner attention from industry as we have to compete with the budgets and reach of larger brands. It can be challenging to develop relationships and interest from the hospitality space as larger brands create monetary expectations that are difficult to match. Social media provided an early form of level playing field for smaller brands that did not have full sales teams or marketing budgets. However changes to social media (tweaked algorithms on Instagram that now drive “pay to play“ access ) have now minimized the early benefits that smaller brands enjoyed. As these models change, it sounds like small brands and industry have mutual needs! What’s the solution?

  • Josh says:

    Mr. Morgenthaler, thanks for always being a trustworthy source of info. This is a great read.

  • Pete K. says:

    Always good to stand up and do the right thing… Now lets get some more awesome cocktail recipes up here!!!

  • Chris Funk says:

    It’s short-sighted business also…
    a couple of years ago I was doing that same task to recruit John Lemeyer (RIP) on a brand trip to Martinique. John couldn’t due to prior commitments but asked that we take his junior bartender who had never been on a brand trip.
    Fast forward a few years and that junior bartender is managing an outlet in a very hot spot on Miami Beach, and guess what? Our Rhums have a wonderful spot in his bar program now and he’ll forever be able to make a mean ‘ti punch and talk up Martinique and our brands. We will always be his first brand trip.
    Thanks for the post, Jeff.

  • John Verrochi says:

    It seems the brand wanted to swim in two pools at the same time. They erred on the side of media it seems. Sadly, bartender familiarity with and affinity for a product can lead to real movement and future success for that brand… unless it’s just a shit product.
    Great story

  • Stephen Paulson says:

    Great article, I’ll be in Portland soon working for an agency pimping products for the other end of the restaurant to help small boutique producer of bacon. I’ll have to saddle up to the bar and enjoy one of your libations. Thanks for being you!

  • Doug Ford says:

    Congratulations, Jeffrey, on putting your ethics to work in the real world, for publishing your reasons, and for providing this forum for others to explore the nuances of your position. Thank you.

  • John Wilson says:

    Mr. Morgenthaler, I have been an avid follower of your blog for about ten years now and this is the first time I felt I could add to the conversation. The actions you took have given me even more respect for you. I work in retail (management) and I have a number of friends in the industry. I deal with a lot of the same reps that they do and I’ve gone to bartending competitions in the past supporting my friends. The support that you gave your team is outstanding and I wish everyone had support like that. Also, how has one has mentioned yet how amazing your staff photo is?! Bravo, sir.

  • John Henry says:

    When I need a key influencer, I call a locksmith. Thanks for keeping it real and keeping it shared, Jeffrey

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