By Ian Whitworth
In the car? Or just hate reading? Let me read it for you. 10 mins.
Business Drinking: Time For Formal Qualifications
You can get formal qualifications for almost anything now. But there’s one essential business skill badly in need of an accreditation system. It’s the ability to drink alcohol at business events while remaining pleasant and fun to be around.
Business drinking offers as much scope for both pleasure and damage as driving a car. So in lieu of licences, some handy guidelines:
1. Spare Us Your Smug Charity Clarity
You have a perfect right not to drink alcohol. I much prefer the company of an honest, just-don’t-like-alcohol or religious-reasons non-drinker over a drinker who is smugly off the stuff for Puritanuary, Feb-fast, Parched March, Abstain-pril, Moderation May, Judicious June, Dry July, No More-gust, Sensible-tember, Ocsober, Just Say No-vember, Detoxcember or any other of the endless pleasure-denial festivals inflicted on us by preachy health professional groups.
Sure, do it to support charity but keep it to yourself. None of us give a fuck how clear-headed and mindful you feel.
2. Listen To The Inner Voices
Moderate alcohol speeds up almost all essential business processes, lowering the walls of cowardice and indecision – yours and others’ – that block progress. Clients tell you what they really think. Decisions you agonise over in daylight can seem really clear when your inner honest voices are let off the chain. You learn the deep-down nature of your staff much faster.
You should not sign documents or make irrevocable decisions when you are drinking, but don’t discount your thoughts at these times.
3. Know Your Latin
The Romans had all this down thousands of years ago with the expression In Vino Veritas, which our in-house Latin scholars translate to:
“If you are, at your very core, a dickhead, you can hide it quite well during office hours, just as serial killers aren’t always killing people. But get a few glasses of cheap catering wine under the belt, and it’s cape on and takeoff time for Super Dickhead, coming to save us all from a pleasant night out”.
When people describe someone as a mean drunk or a morose drunk, in reality they’re a mean or morose person who manages to hide it most of the time. If people are happy drunks, you know they’re essentially a decent person.
4. Broaden Your Conversation Base
Ninja business drinking skill is being able to listen to an evening of random jabbering and remember it all, so you can recall it next time you speak to that person in six months. Or being able, the next morning, to email them the link to that thing they found so interesting the night before. It’s a handier business skill than Excel, and an essential factor in the growth of our own brand.
Alcohol should encourage you to broaden your conversation topics and the people you converse with. I’m lucky enough to work in an industry with a majority of women, and the conversation topics are so much wider and better. There’s nothing worse than that blokes-club vibe of drunk bros in a closed circle talking about nothing but work and football. Embrace the chance to learn some new material.
5. Raise Your Bar Budget, Lower Your Meeting Room Budget
Early on I knew my business partner and I would start a business together one day, purely because we have some kind of lucky enzyme mix that means we don’t get hangovers.
So we’re out there late at night at industry events, not drunk but professionally relaxed, taking it all in like information super-trawlers. You suck up a lot of verbal plankton and krill, which we’re good with as we genuinely love talking to people, and every so often you land some exotic fact that will be worth a lot to you. That might be in five years’ time, but it’s all stored away. Business is all about information, and you won’t find the valuable stuff sitting at home scrolling through LinkedIn.
We’re able to strike handshake deals in dark bars at 3am, when people are stripped of their corporate veneer and able to express their feelings. I’m pretty sure we’ve never made any significant deals, sales or high-level hirings in offices or meeting rooms. I find them as stiff and artificial as any focus group.
6. If You Can’t Drink, Just Don’t
Lack of alcohol skills is a harsh litmus test. Over the years, in other businesses, we’ve had to whack salespeople who had good business skills, could take customer orders competently and were perfectly employable in every way but one.
They’d go to a lunch, have nine drinks, unleash the kind of jokes that end with “…just one goat!”, touch clients with their wandering monkey paws, and create the sort of spectacle that brings awkward client emails the next day.
You can’t have that stigma attached to your brand. If you are one of these people, you just can’t drink when you’re on company duty. There’s no safe dosage, because once Super Dickhead gets the slightest taste, the inner voices say “just one more, you’ll be fiiiine”.
If you’re a party dickhead, you aren’t just ruining the good vibe on one night. You’re making life worse for everybody over the long term. HR departments and other risk management killjoys are trying to regulate parties out of existence, and it’s BECAUSE OF YOU.
Ask a range of your friends: am I that person when we have more than a few drinks? If even one of them looks you in the eye and says yes, or even hesitates before they say no … it’s permanent detox time for you, at least for your business life.
7. Get Qualifications*
*Qualifications not currently available. I welcome expressions of interest from colleges interested in setting up a joint-venture certification course for business drinking.
The coursework is short, as you either can drink or you can’t. Training won’t change that. Basically the instructor shows the class a single slide reading “Never Do Shots”.
In the practical exam, business people are locked up and given measured doses of liquor. At three drinks, they have to do a short PowerPoint presentation on their business. You should be able to do that by pure reflex.
Then another two drinks per hour up to three hours, the length of an average evening social event. Sober evaluators work the room, chatting on random topics, looking for signs of offensiveness or stupidity.
After the three hours, finishing at 1am, if the candidate hasn’t:
- Groped anyone
- Shown anyone a tattoo that would normally be covered if you were at the beach
- Sent self-pitying messages to their ex
- Tried to impersonate any kind of foreign accent
- Told the boss, as someone I know did, “You are the past, and I am the future.”
… they have passed Part 1 of the test. Photocopying your bum used to be on the list, but that technology has now been disrupted with any number of apps that can publicly preserve your career-limiting moves forever.
Part 2 is showing up for work the next morning on time, nicely dressed, fully functioning and not reeking of cigarettes and kebabs. There is nothing more pathetic and useless than missing work, or sitting around for hours going “so hungover” after a night out. That is not what you’re paid for.
Around lunchtime the day after, graduates get the Certified Business Drinker (CBD) qualification. CBD holders are qualified to go to social events, claim cab expenses, and generally represent the business in Loose Situations in a way that builds long-term goodwill.
An essential part of that goodwill is being aware of what’s going on around you. Scan the room for people who need rescuing from creeps and bores. Introduce people who can help each other. Keep an eye out for amateur drinkers who have gone in too deep, and get them a cab or help them get back to their hotel.
8. Drunk Sales Patter Is The Worst
For the PhD qualification, you have to navigate the CBD test without once mentioning your business and its leading-edge range of solutions. To do this, you must be interesting and, more importantly, interested in other people.
It’s one of the tragedies of the middle-aged professional that so many of them lose the ability to talk about anything except their own tedious profession. So lawyers will cluster together and talk all night about who will be made a judge and so forth. Perfectly fine if it’s a gathering of lawyers at a Law Society cocktail party. But if there are regular citizens present, your mono-topic banter is charmless.
Sales pitches are just bad manners. Learn to take the conversation in unexpected directions and people will remember you, the Certified Doctor of Cocktail Party Situations.
9. Invest Time In Future You
Only about 10% of the grand plans and promises made in these late-night situations actually become a reality, but that’s still a far better strike rate than daytime brainstorming with sandwiches and a facilitator.
People may not wake up with specific knowledge of anything that was said but they still have a non-specific feeling that you are likeable and can be trusted.
It’s exactly like developing a brand. Feelings and instinct beat facts every time.
It’s a long game, forming experiences that can bond you for life and creating business relationships that no standard meeting or sales call can ever do. The commercial returns are hard to justify on a single year’s evaluation.
If you’re in your twenties, the cocktails and after-parties you don’t attend are costing Future You access to the secret club where stuff gets done offline, once your friends achieve power.
10. Pick Up The Tab
There’s a super-complex set of scales and balances on who pays. Is someone a potential client? Who in the group works for a big company with lax expense approval rules? Who’s having a hard year and deserves a free drink?
You can’t pick up the tab all the time, but you all know someone who is a chronic round-evader.
They think they’re getting away with it, as they order their usual deluxe cocktail and talk up how you’ll be doing business together real soon. They make a show of pulling out wallet or purse, waving it around with zero intent of opening it.
Everyone knows what they’re up to.
When the day of reckoning comes, they shall be judged by the all-seeing Etiquette God and cast into a vast cauldron of boiling pump-pack hot dog cheese.
Don’t be that person.
You’re better than that.
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