Supporting the Hospitality and Spirits Industry during a Pandemic: My Tales of the Cocktail Tale

Olivia graduated Tulane University in 2020 with her Bachelors in Communications and Social Entrepreneurship. She was granted the Changemaker Catalyst Award for her impactful work supporting the New Orleans hospitality industry. In her spare time she loves to write, teach yoga and travel.

Tales of the Cocktail: Who we are and what we do 

Passing through Lee Circle and walking into the Contemporary Arts Center on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons soon became part of my ritual during the Spring semester of my senior year at Tulane. I would make my way up to the third floor of the Contemporary Arts Center through a beautiful open co-working space with lots of sunlight , unlimited cold-brew  coffee and beer on tap for those of age (after 4pm) called The Shop. Walking past breakout rooms through one of the wings of The Shop led me to a glass-door with the blue and yellow Tales of the Cocktail Foundation (TOTCF) logo proudly printed on it. Now you may be wondering what exactly this foundation does, the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation’s mission is to educate, advance and support both the local New Orleans, and global hospitality and spirits industry through biannual events and year-round programing such as the Spirit Awards and Beyond the Bar.

On my first day, I remember meeting all of my coworkers in the office and thinking to myself how incredible it was to be interning with a non-profit that was headed by a Tulane alumni, Caroline Rosen, and that my co-workers were mostly women. Before I get into all the amazing programming that the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation is responsible for, let me tell you more about my role at TOTCF. As the Public Relations intern, I would join the weekly PR calls and at these meetings I was responsible mostly for just following along, asking questions and taking notes. I had only worked for an external PR agency before, and it was exciting for me to experience the backend of PR from an internal standpoint. It truly was the internship of my dreams, although as an organization we hit a lot of bumps throughout my short time.

Tales on Tour

I had a couple different projects early on, working closely with another one of the digital marketing interns to put together an influencer package for our upcoming events, Tales on Tour and Tales of the Cocktail New Orleans. Tales on Tour is a four-day festival that TOTCF hosts in a different city each year featuring a Day of Education with seminars about topics affecting the industry like mental health, a Day of Service where attendees volunteer in the local community and of course, a Day of Spirits featuring cocktail parties and tasting events. This year, we were planning Tales on Tour in San Juan Puerto Rico, which was scheduled to begin on April 19th, 2020. 

Puerto Rico has been hit by 950 earthquakes this year, 11 of which magnitude 5 or greater, and the United States responded by issuing a travel warning about the small island. Although Tales on Tour was to take place in San Juan, a coastal city that was luckily out of the affected range of the most recent earthquakes, people were nonetheless reluctant to travel to Puerto Rico in light of the earthquakes. Many of our PR calls focused on brainstorming how to pivot the Day of Service and even the educational seminars to address disaster relief and coping with trauma while working with our local partner World Central Kitchen to see how we could best serve the Puerto Rican community and support the tourism industry during this time. 

In March we were intensely monitoring the news in Puerto Rico, and started to hear more and more about the COVID-19 pandemic overtaking over Italy. When Italy closed its borders, our team started to consider canceling the Tales on Tour event. As other events and festivals started to announce cancelations, TOTCF made the executive decision to cancel Tales on Tour, knowing that we would be putting our friends in Puerto Rico at risk by bringing an international crowd to gather on the island. The focus quickly shifted from selling tickets to reaching out to our sponsors, partners, and friends in Puerto Rico first to inform them that we were no longer able to host the event. 

Tales Online:

After canceling Tales on Tour, I had one of my last days in The Shop. Had I known it would be my last day working, I would have said my goodbyes and thank yous, but soon enough the office was closed just as my senior year classes went online. Like everyone else in the United States, I transitioned to working remotely, checking in over Zoom and SLACK to stay updated on changes within the foundation. With all of the changes going on, I helped compile a list of COVID-19 resources specifically for hospitality business owners and workers in each state and developed a risk-management template that outlines steps we can take to mitigate future risk and respond based on the procedures that were enacted during my time with TOTCF. 

Where is Hospitality Heading? 

The Tales of the Cocktail Foundation has experienced the hardships of COVID-19, and as a non-profit that supports the hospitality industry, the work that Tales is currently doing to serve as an international platform for sharing information and resources has been well received by the global community. In TOTCF’s weekly webinar, “Full Hands In// Full Hands Out”, bar and restaurant owners from around the world share local news, practices, hardships, ideas and alternative business models, creating a platform for industry leaders to connect and shape the way that the hospitality industry is going to both slowly open back up, and also be forever changed.

In this recent webinar moderated by Laura Cullen, the founder of Liberty Consulting and Vice President at Southern Glazer’s Wines and Spirits, industry leaders from the United States representing New York City, Houston, Miami, and Scotland covered topics ranging from strategies for opening back up, speculation about how the industry is going to change, conversations with landlords and policy makers, staffing, lawsuits, and even alternative revenue models for hospitality business owners to consider. 

The panelists discussed Louisiana’s decision to reopen restaurants on May 15th at 25% capacity and the likelihood of other states following this regulation. Restaurants and bars profit when their spaces are completely packed, and for some, opening at 25% capacity could lose them more money than staying closed. Alba Huerta, owner of Julep in Houston Texas emphasized that recovery doesn’t just mean opening doors to customers again, it means, “When we talk about recovery, we are not talking about the recovery of one individual restaurant or bar. We’re talking about the recovery of an entire economy, looking at the macroeconomics and what kind of economy we’re going to be opening into.” 

With some states (and countries) starting to open back up sooner than others, sharing information is vital to the collective rebuilding of the hospitality industry. Ian McPherson, owner of Panda and Sons shared an innovation he recently pioneered with the rest of the group. Ian opened Edinburgh Booze Delivery, a website where people can order drinks and spirits straight to their homes in Scotland. The conversation steered towards innovation in the industry, with experts speculating that catering at home-dinner parties and sending packages of materials for DIY cooking and spirits demonstrations is going to be the future night out. TOTCF has already begun this trend by recording “Raise a Glass” webinars where bartenders from around the world share industry insights and share their favorite cocktail recipes.

The Tales of the Cocktail Foundation has become an online platform for sharing information, cultivating community and providing resources to the global spirits industry, and it is facilitating important conversations by including the perspectives of its diverse community. While TOTCF is on the forefront of innovation in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the hospitality industry needs to continue conversations with lawmakers and government representatives in order to negotiate policies that support current business models and make it feasible for establishments to open back up responsibly and profitably. These difficult conversations will involve landlords and insurance companies. Industry leaders like David Martinez, owner of Cafe Latrova in Miami, are already bringing groups of doctors, government officials and restaurant owners together to enact new policies for a sustainable reestablishment of the tourism sector.

The hospitality industry will always support community gathering, and tourism as is not going anywhere. We must continue to support local businesses through purchasing gift cards, ordering takeout and donating when possible. The Tales of the Cocktail Foundation will continue facilitating conversations about mental health in the hospitality sector through its “Healthy Pour” series headed by Laura Green as well as hosting its other weekly webinar events. While moving all programing online posed its difficulties, I’m proud to have been a part of this transition in supporting the hospitality industry virtually and remotely. This pandemic leaves many wondering tourism will look like in the future, I see innovation and continued support to be the key driving forces in bringing the hospitality industry back together safely and successfully.