Pendulums swing. It’s what they do. We had 7-8 years of really boozy Don Draper style drinks but in the last few years we’ve been scaling things back (well, some of us). Along with these lower octane drinks comes a focus on overall wellness. Mental and physical health has never been the first thing we associate with bars and cocktails but then we have Amie Ward, The Healthtender.
For the last 3 years Amie has run health and wellness programs for many bartender organizations and helped many bars with their staff trainings. She shows up to cocktail events all over North America and Toronto Cocktail Conference is no exception.
Amie took the time to tell us a little about herself and what The Healthtender does (in between chair dips).
Bartender Atlas: What was your first bartending job and what style of bartending was it?
Amie Ward: My first bartending gig was at a bar called Bad Decisions. It was a dive bar that had an absurd amount of obscure spirits and liqueurs, so I grew up in the bar making crazy concoctions with wild flavors. Could not make a classic cocktail to save my life, however. That came down the road after several episodes where I was caught shaking a Manhattan and putting dry Vermouth into a Sazerac for some bartender pals. The shock and horror on their faces was a good indication I had some additional work to do.
BA: What were you doing before you became a bartender?
AW: I had been involved in playing and coaching sports from an early age, and that transitioned into an adult career as an educator and college Academic Advisor. I spent the first five years of my bartending career while still living as a “Day Walker,” and I finally decided to make the leap into full-time bartending about 5 years ago because I found greater fulfillment in the Hospitality industry compared to Academia.
BA: When did health/wellness become a priority for you? How did you get into this field?
AW: As a lifelong sports nerd, health and wellness has been in my blood for as long as I can remember. I started as a dancer and then transitioning into softball, field hockey, roller derby, and now Strongwoman and Spartan Races. After tearing my ACL playing hockey during high school, I became fascinated with sports medicine—so much that I decided to major in Kinesiology (also known as Exercise Physiology) for my college degrees. I earned my personal training certificate 4 years ago to challenge myself, and be able to share my passion in a more structured setting. Though a healthy lifestyle has been a normal part of my day to day life forever, it really wasn’t until a little over 3 years ago when I presented on wellness to the Baltimore Bartenders Guild that I was told this information needed to be presented to the larger bar community.
BA: When did the idea for The Healthtender first come up and how long was it before you put the idea into action?
AW: I finally made The Healthtender a real business 2 years ago. By that time, I had begun teaching regular fitness classes weekly for the Baltimore community, presented on wellness for our industry at Bar Institute Baltimore, and had traveled across Texas sharing my knowledge on the Bar Econo tour in Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and Houston. I was blown away by how receptive everyone was. It was the motivation I needed to move forward with the business model.
BA: What kind of events do you host as The Healthtender?
AW: I teach just about anything you can imagine! Classroom style lectures on general health and wellness, bar/restaurant health makeovers, restorative classes, nutrition courses, fun workouts, 1:1 and group health coaching and personal training, injury prevention and attention workshops, cocktail workshops and catering… the list goes on!!! As the general population has taken a good deal of interest in the subject, I like to make things more interactive and participant-driven. My nutrition classes are no longer me trying to explain nutrients and food groups, but are now hands on meal prep and cooking classes. Self-care and Mental Health courses are participant-driven and designed as open spaces for people to express best practices for how they manage their own self-care. My Injury prevention courses focus on self-massage and athletic taping, so they are hands-on workshops where attendees can learn the techniques to address their major pain concerns. Movement classes are always a big hit, especially because they are designed for people with no prior experience in exercise. They are fun and they accidentally sweat in the process!
BA: With all of your Healthtender events are you still working at a bar regularly? How do you balance your life?
AW: I left my bar program at the beginning of June, but that was to focus on preparing to move to Chicago this month. Once settled, I’m hopeful that I will find a space that can use a floating bartender or one shift per week type of gal, or perhaps an event bartending gig! I am certainly not ready to be done bartending, but I know I am no longer in a position to lead a bar program with my tricky HT schedule. I also want to find a few gym spaces across the city where I can negotiate free or low drop-in fee fitness classes throughout the month for service industry humans. Or even a few restaurant groups that are interested in bringing health programming to their teams. I have forever been an overly ambitious human, so balance for me is achieved via a color-coded calendar (paper, Google, and a dry erase one at home), an overabundance of lists I can check off items from regularly, and proper nutrition and gym time. I have admittedly been struggling these past few months to find balance with the stress of traveling for work, preparing my house for sale, and packing up my life in Baltimore. I have been forgiving of myself for my lack of regularity, and have made a checklist of accomplishments for each week leading up to the move to show myself the light at the end of the tunnel. I am really looking forward to settling down in Chicago, starting a new routine for my health and self-care, and getting to immerse myself in this amazing city.
BA: What is the best advice that you can give to a working bartender?
AW: Make a schedule, set goals, find balance, and be forgiving. The irregularity of hours in our industry is the catalyst for the habits that we develop. Not having a regular schedule can be daunting, so I encourage people to handwrite or track electronically what their schedules are so they can see where they are able to pepper in time for themselves—sleeping, eating, exercising, puppy snuggles, whathaveyou. Calendars allow people to be mindful of their time and set boundaries for themselves when things get too cramped and stressful. If the bartender is in a place where schedules are irregular (i.e. not the same shifts and in/out times each week), I encourage them to discuss with management and ask for at least 2 weeks of schedules at a time. At my last bar, I had 25 bar babes. For my sanity and theirs, I set 4 weeks of schedules at a time, and kept them at the same shifts and in/out times each week. I scheduled them for a maximum of 4 shifts each week so they could use those other 3 days to do whatever they needed to recoup, even if that was picking up an additional shift somewhere. Setting goals is incredibly important for people to stay on task with what they want to achieve. I love SMART goals, which are Strategic, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. Setting these goals can help you move forward in your career, successfully navigate a lifestyle challenge (e.g. starting a workout program, learning to meal prep, implementing meditation), and find balance in your life. But the most important advice I could give to a working bartender is to be forgiving. To yourself when you cannot meet the expectations you set for yourself. Setbacks and relapses occur, and people need to be okay with that. It’s what you do with that setback that truly matters.
BA: Tell us about your new monthly exercise series.
AW: I am so stoked on this! Each month I am teaming up with a new sponsor to bring a fitness challenge to the bar world (and beyond—non-hospitality humans have started doing this and that is AMAZING). The challenge is designed to be body weight exercises that can be accomplished by anyone—meaning no prior experience is required—and anywhere (no gym or equipment necessary). Participants are asked to challenge their friends, and we make it as entertaining as possible. For instance, with this month’s #DickelDips campaign, I’ve been filming clips of people eating Dippin’ Dots, French fries dipped in ketchup, pita dipped in Tzatziki, and others while asking the question, “Is this a #DickelDips?” I like to disguise exercise as fun so people become less intimidated by it, and I think it’s working. At Tales of the Cocktail this year, flash mobs dropped and did 50 squats for me to show their dedication to the program. A healthy prize pack of swag from the monthly sponsor is the big prize, and they are given a pretty intense list of what I’m looking for. I want brands to invest in the wellness of the people who create beauty with their products, and I want the bartenders to see there is more to brand events than just drinking.
BA: Tell us a little about drinking and cocktails in Baltimore.
AW: Baltimore has been a beer town for as long as I can remember, but cocktails have crept their way into the heart of the city over the last decade. I find the majority of the cocktails here to be super quirky and well thought out. Because the city is so small, I think the bartenders do a good job at challenging one another to step their game up, and I have seen that in terms of sustainability and sourcing products, creativity, and upscale drinks. In addition, the niche drinking establishments are shining and being done very well. You’ll find anything from organic wine bars to mezcal bars to gin bars to bitters bars to tiki and luxury concepts.
BA: Speaking of Baltimore, is there a statue of John Waters there yet?
AW: Sadly no. But he is a God in my eyes. I devoted an entire cocktail menu to him last spring and it was my greatest accomplishment. He lived around the corner from my Baltimore house and I’m so fortunate I got to grow up in a community with the actual Pope of Trash. I have all of his books, have watched all of his movies, and am OBSESSESSED.
BA: If someone wants to run an event with you, what’s the best way to go about it?
AW: Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, tell me what kind of magic you are thinking, and let’s make it happen. No event is out of the realm of possibility, and I’m really excited to explore new avenues with this industry.
Want to make your bar teams healthier? We can do that together!
Want to organize a super fun weekly or monthly fitness class for you bar team, brand ambassadors, or distillery/brewery employees? Yes. Yes. And Yes.
Do you want your team to learn about mindfulness? I can be your meditation Sherpa.
Want to organize a meal prep class with your team, or discuss how to navigate snacking and mindfully eating off your existing menu? I’m getting hungry just thinking about it!
Want to set up a team building excursion that’s not traditional? Let me telling you about my sweet ax throwing skills!
Want to create a N/A Cocktail Competition and have some healthy prize pack, please please please contact me because I want to do this so bad!
BA: Have you been to Toronto before? Is there anything you want to see during TOCC?
AW: I was in Toronto maybe 15 years ago for an indoor field hockey tournament, and I never got to experience the city so I am very excited to be coming in. I want to see literally everything!
Thank you, Amie for taking the time to speak with us! We will see you very soon at TORONTO COCKTAIL CONFERENCE!