Behind the smile

The hospitality industry isn’t always great for mental health. Now we’re doing something about it

Bartender Alex Black is one of the founding directors of Mind the Bar, which works to destigmatize mental illness. Jonathan Norton photo

The conversation surrounding mental health in the hospitality industry is finally gaining momentum. Published studies are showing that hospitality employees are put under extremely high stress compared to most other industries. Statistics Canada shows we top all other industries when it comes to alcohol and illicit drug abuse. To quote celebrity chef Cat Cora: “We are dealing with an epidemic of mental illness in our industry.”

Community leaders around the globe are stepping forward to voice their concerns, and some have publicly acknowledged their own demons. We’ve seen icons like Anthony Bourdain and Sasha Petraske succumb to the perils of mental illness, while others, like chefs Sean Brock and David McMillan, have begun to promote a sober lifestyle.

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Three parties, one marriage

It’s wedding season. Here’s some advice for keeping the party going from a bartender who’s seen it all.

David Wolowidnyk. Ben Duffy photo

The notion of having three different parties to celebrate a marriage sounds like a great idea to many brides-to-be, but for some, the stress can be overwhelming. And as the bartender tasked with making the party happen, I’ve seen it all, the good, the bad and the really messy.

If you’re the one planning the party, you’re probably thinking something along the lines of: “OMG, what am I going to serve? Maybe I can get that hot bartender to create custom recipes, buy the ingredients, prepare everything, and bartend each of the parties.” Anything is possible—for a price, of course.

But before you get started, here’s what I’ve learned from the parties I’ve either tended or attended.

The shower

The bridal shower, an afternoon sprinkled with feigned innocence knowing that your grandma, mom and nieces will be there, runs a risk that one friend may drink a little too much and confess some indiscretions or possibly gift you a Kama Sutra book, detailing all the fun you will have, noting some of the pages not to miss. This is not that type of party. It is meant to be a sea of pastel-clad women, eating cute little cucumber sandwiches and tiny flaky pastries, sipping on bubbly rosé and perhaps a Pimm’s Cup or an Aperol Spritz. Floral cocktails also tend to be a hit with this crowd. They’re fresh and lively, delicate yet complex and low in alcohol. Shots are not OK here, unless it is grandma who instigates.

The bachelorette party

The bachelorette party, now this is when a bride can let loose with the girls. Debauchery is common. Do not invite anyone you can’t be your true self around because skeletons will likely come out to play even if you don’t want them to. This is not a drinking marathon; walk instead of run your way through the vodka sodas. It’s going to be a long night. Drink water before, between and after the shots or, better yet, show some restraint and limit the shots. The last thing you want is to be the one spilled into the taxi while the night is still young.

The wedding

My favourite wedding receptions have a modest yet thoughtful drink selection, catering to a wide range of preferences. A couple of craft beers, one crisp and clean, the other with a hoppy bite. A few decent wines—one white, one red and possibly a rosé—that aren’t begging to be paired with food. (Pro tip: Sticking to white wine eliminates the inevitable stains on clothing and teeth.) The cocktail selection should be simple, with a maximum of five choices, including the reception cocktail served upon arrival. At least one cocktail should be light and low in alcohol. Also offer one that is a little fruity, another that is spirit forward and one that is tart and dry. There are a lot of positives to batching cocktails for large parties, notably keeping things consistent and expediting service. But having cocktails prepared to order adds a level of personalized service that may be more important to you.

Whatever the occasion, leave the stress behind, leave the bartending to us, and have some fun!

Try this floral bubbly drink for any of your summer gatherings.

—by David Wolowidnyk


David Wolowidnyk’s Schwing pairs perfectly with any summer party.

This floral bubbly drink created by David Wolowidnyk is ideal as a reception cocktail for any of your spring flings.

• 1 oz gin or vodka
• 1 oz Aperol
• 0.5 oz lemon juice
• Dash orange flower water
• 2 oz sparkling wine

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Hey, Bartender

Thoughts from behind the wood: Why bartending should be social, not social media

Jonathan Norton/Wildebeest photo

Bartenders are not in the business of making drinks. We are in the business of servicing the needs of human beings. Full stop.

It’s been said that we trained bartenders in the art of mixology and along the way we lost the art of bartending. But in the debate of bartender vs. mixologist, the end goal of both was essentially the same: Be better, be more knowledgeable, provide better experiences, work in better places. I believe both sides would agree that it is unbecoming of a barkeep to seek prestige by any other means than hard work and education.

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