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Joe Warwick: ‘Come Christmas, there’s a painfully challenging spike in the tired and emotional drinker’

Festive fatigue: we’ve all been there, although definitely not to the same extent as the average hospitality worker. Let’s leave aside being subjected to a soundtrack of sleigh bells and Slade for six weeks (an aural assault we suffer in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in retail), and ignore the drag of working when it seems like everyone else is letting their hair down – which (cue violins...) is our accepted lot throughout the year. Ostensibly the only difference over the Christmas period is that it all comes with silly hats, jumpers and bells on.

We really do want everyone to enjoy their office party, friends’ get-together, Christmas shopping pitstop and joyous/fraught family gathering. We genuinely want every customer that graces us with their presence at this most magical time of year to enter and leave our establishments full of festive cheer. Not least because the run-up to Christmas is crucial for hospitality – this is when we (hopefully) squirrel away bumper takings to get us through the bleak midwinter of January and early February.

None of which makes it easier to deal with the seasonal plague that is ADS – Amateur Drinking Syndrome. It’s our bread and butter dealing with those who have had a good night out and sometimes a few too many, but come Christmas there’s a painfully challenging spike in the tired and emotional drinker.

We appreciate that not everyone has the same alcohol tolerance, and that often those who choose not to drink for the rest of the year – birthdays and anniversaries aside – often decide to have a tipple or two come Christmas. But – in the same way that I wouldn’t recommend a whole raw scotch bonnet pepper to someone whose normal experience of spice is a mild korma – someone who normally sips half a lager and only has one small glass of red with their main course deciding to preload, hard, with G&Ts, then to segue into Champagne before sampling wines of every grape and colour, and deciding that it’s finally time to try plum eau-de-vie for the first time, is misguided. I’ve watched this happen, repeatedly, and it’s never pretty.

In my long and undistinguished career I’ve seen what mishandled festive cheer can do. I’ve witnessed diners passed out face-down in dinner plates on the first course into a 10-course tasting menu with paired wines, narrowly avoided someone staggering into a flambé trolley as the alcohol was being ignited, and have had to spoon countless customers into cabs as they were beyond the ability to hold, let alone focus on, their phones.

Of course it’s all part of the service, but a little more pacing and little less haste would mean everyone having a better time. As a sage Basque bartender once told me midway through a crawl through the streets of San Sebastián: ‘Never eat without drinking, never drink without eating.’ Always remember that aggressive preloading on an empty stomach is the root cause of the majority of grisly ADS incidents.

Christmas comes but once a year, it’s true, but there’s a lot of it to get through. So please pace yourselves better than the average hospitality worker does come their January Christmas party… but that, of course, is another story.


In my glass this month

I fell in love with Californian wine during my spell at chef Victor Garvey’s Sola in London’s Soho, working alongside Tara Ozols, Michelin Sommelier Award 2023 winner. She turned me on to the creamy, organic-certified Matthiasson, Linda Vista Chardonnay from Napa Valley, with its soft minerality and gentle acidity. The cheesy, Ricky Martin- inspired ‘Living La Linda Vista’ line it also gave me was an added bonus… I have a magnum of 2020 I’ve been saving for Christmas. (75cl, £36-£40 Good Wine Good People, Lay & Wheeler, The Good Wine Shop, Tivoli Wines, Vin Cognito)

A bottle of Matthiasson, Linda Vista Chardonnay

Joe Warwick is head of hospitality for Cubitt House, which runs eight luxurious London pubs with restaurants.


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