Buddy, can you spare a (real) drink?

The four most depressing words I have heard, more and more frequently, recently are: “Sorry. Soft Drinks Only.”

They are said by barmen at analyst presentations and other events which I attend in my super-sleuth capacity as a roving reporter preparing raving reports.

In contrast, the most glorious sound in the world has greeted me at a few recent media events involving the launch of new booze products. This is the seven word celebration: “What Can We Get You to Drink?”

Now, I have worked for a mining company and fully understand and support the logic that if you – rightly – ban alcohol from your mines, or factories or smelters, you should follow this through to the corporate offices.  I remember a lunch with Sasol, when I was delighted to hear the welcoming mantra: “What Can We Get You to Drink?” My spirits sank when I realised the lack of spirits, or wine or beer on offer…. There was grape juice or Coke. But I understood the policy.

However, I would argue that when mining, construction, manufacturing and indeed all other firms hold functions ELSEWHERE, they should show some adult hospitality and offer a few real drinks to real men (and women).

On those infrequent occasions when I am offered a glass of something pleasing, it often comes as a compensation for the frequently dire food which is dished up. I just don’t understand how so many expensive Johannesburg hotels (in particular) can be so poor at providing tasty and well-presented grub.   There are exceptions, which only serve to highlight the dire fare at most events.

So, how can and should the hosts do better?   Apart from restricting the section of analyst presentations given over to the CFO to 30 seconds or less, a little bit of imagination and graciousness would make such a difference, and at little or no extra cost.   If you are buying food for 100, along with Coke, apple juice, bottled water and other over-priced extravagances, procuring a few bottles of wine and beer would be a tiny extra burden.   A fraction of the annual bonus of the CEO, I would venture?

So who is responsible for the trend towards Scrooge-like behaviour among the big corporates? Internal or external communications and investor relations types, who want their own miserable existence to spread like Ebola to all with whom they interact? Company bosses whose own lifestyles would make the (historic) activities at the Playboy mansion, or the weekend orgies at Nero’s place, seem like a Sunday School picnic?   But the aim of these types is to project soberness, godliness and an upright image, hoping they are seen as the sort of people who would never indulge in insider trading, the fiddling of accounts, nepotism, collusion, or the bribing of public officials. Which, of course, never happens in corporate SA.

I just don’t buy this hypocrisy – although I did buy a hip flask, which enables me to slip a slug or 10 of gin into an orange juice on those increasingly-frequent occasions when the host is highly inhospitable.

So how should it be done?  Well, I have attended a results presentation of a big property company where guests were greeted by a tray of (adult) drinks. Whenever an Investec or Barloworld, Shopright or AECI, function has been held, there has been real hospitality. One of the smaller listed firms hosts the media for lunch at a celebrated Rosebank steakhouse, and a good time is had by all.

But the events which have outshone all the corporate ones have been staged by people who know how to entertain.   Thanks to my involvement in the broadcasting of boozy podcasts with my chum and mentor Michael Olivier, I have attended several remarkable events in recent months.   Nedbank hoisted the Cape Winemakers’ Guild tasting, which was superb. I went to an excellent lunch for the launch of the latest High Road Wines’ vintages, and have attended launch events for a KWV range, Appleton Rum, and Black Bottle and Scottish Leader whiskies.   I was also hosted twice by the Sandton Convention Centre, the second occasion for an impressive craft beer evening. In the (distant) past I also attended some excellent Winex wine-week events at RMB, the first of which enabled me to first encounter Warwick’s wonderful boss Mike Ratcliffe.

I am not saying that companies and others who host the media and analysts have to splash-out in quite the same manner. But you need to just look at the sad huddles of sad people who pour out of a dull event to find the only thing being poured is Coke or fruit juice. Maybe the hosts are well-aware that something sweet needs to be offered remove the sour taste from the mouths of their guests?

So come on, you bunch of party poopers!   Replace the poop food with something worthwhile, and don’t refuse the booze.

See? There’s a New Year’s resolution which will truly make the world a better place.

Tweets of the Day:

David O’Doherty (@phlaimeaux): What singer is the best for organising visas and consular affairs? SHIRLEY EMBASSY

J A E (@jaymeisterrr):   Madonna was recently named the face of Versace’s Spring/Summer 2015 collection, which is impressive for an 87 year old.


Only the soft-brained only serve soft drinks.


In response to the growing support for the Die Vine Intervention wine tasting podcasts I conduct with the legendary Michael Olivier, ZA Confidential is expanding its coverage to include more writing about food, wine and lifestyle issues.

We will continue to commentate on business, but will do less day-to-day writing on routine matters, concentrating on the big stuff.

ZA Confidential is a subscription newsletter.   For subscription details, invitations to grown-up events, or any other communication, please contact:   zaconfidential@gmail.com     Follow us on twitter: @zaconfidential

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