What is going on at Tales of the Cocktail? It seems like every ten minutes somebody resigns.
First co-founder Paul Tuennerman was forced to quit earlier this year, following an ill-advised ‘blacking up and racially insensitive comments’ moment.
These things don’t play well in the 21st century, particularly not in the US. So much so, the company that produces Tales, MOJO 911 LLC, quickly set up a Diversity Council.
Cue six months of relative calm, before Ann Tuennerman attempted to reinstate her husband – and this is the kicker – without telling anybody else. Colin Asare-appiah, co-chair of the Diversity Council was furious – and understandably so.
It’s extraordinary that Ann Tuennerman never thought that the reinstatement of her husband sans consultation, and so soon after his misdemeanours, wouldn’t cause problems.
But the fact that she never apparently considered running it by the Council suggests that Asare-appiah was right when he told the Neat Pour website that ‘The establishment of the Diversity Council feels like lip service to the industry.’
Asare-appiah resigned and severed all contact with Tales – a powerfully symbolic act that would have set eyebrows twitching across the industry, and threatened to presage a swathe of further resignations to boot.
With things (once more) spreading out of control, the Tuennermans did the only thing that they could. They resigned.
But where this leaves Tales now is anybody’s guess.
The Tuennermans, for all their recent mistakes, have been responsible for one of the greatest bar events – one that gathers the great and the good from all over the world to share ideas and information along with Negronis and shots.
And, like them or not, much of what the Tuennermans did – and the way they did it - worked. Replacing them will be a big challenge for new president Melissa Young, who was previously director of operations for TOTC.
Perhaps more serious is how this whole sorry episode might be viewed by the trade. Tales relies heavily on corporate sponsors spending big bucks, and there’s no denying that its brand has been tarnished over the last nine months.
Companies don’t spend tens of thousands of dollars to be associated with controversy and incompetence. A rumbling race row is the last thing Tales needs at a time when it’s almost certainly trying to line up partners for 2018.
Tales is likely to survive – it’s a huge event. But juvenile blacking up, dodgy comments and an unwillingness to face up to one’s failings tend not to go down too well with global brands, let alone the service staff that the event is staged for.
The next six months is going to have to see a lot of butt-kissing and feather-smoothing if the event is to continue as it is.
This article was updated on 28 September 2017 following the deletion of the Google document calling the spending of Tales’ revenue into question, and the resulting statement given by the Tales of the Cocktail organisers.