Q&A with Drink Masters Winner Lauren Paylor

Bar & Restaurant recently spoke with Lauren Paylor, the winner of the Netflix series Drink Masters. Released at the end of 2022, Drink Masters features world-class mixologists showcasing their cocktail-crafting skills as they compete for a $100K prize and the title of Ultimate Drink Master.

But Ultimate Drink Master isn't the only accolade on Lauren's shelf. The entrepreneur and beverage industry veteran has also been the Official Bartender for The Emmy Awards; a 2021 Wine Enthusiast 40 under 40; the Global Bar 100 Industry People to Know; and much more.

Her biggest accomplishment, however, may be her company, LP Drinks, which was developed with innovation and story-telling at the front of mind. It houses Focus on Health (a health and wellness platform) Cocktails and Comedy (a live event platform), and Bodega Culture (a dinner series). Lauren is also a shareholder in the RTD brand Siponey Spritz Co.

With all Lauren's involved in, our conversation ranged from Drink Masters to non-alc to how to create safe spaces and more. Read the full Q&A below!



Bar & Restaurant: How has winning Drink Masters affected your career? What was your favorite part of participating in the show?

Lauren: It certainly goes without saying that winning a television show that’s showcased globally is a huge deal, and it comes with recognition but also responsibility. And for me, it's been really great to connect with people from all over the world and really find ways to continue my mission and the values that are so aligned with who I am and continue to create programming, activities, and opportunities for people to continue to gain a better understanding of the food and beverage sector.

For me, it was such a big learning curve, and I learned a lot about myself and what my capabilities are, especially under very stressful environments. I think going into the experience, I was like, this will be a really cool thing to showcase my skill set but also to model that anyone can do this, if they are determined and they put their mind to it.

I came out of it becoming someone who was way more aligned to their mission and their values because I had to be grounded in that in order to ensure that I showcased who I truly was, authentically. Additionally, a lot of the things that really matter to me and aligned with me were things that I could implement very easily after coming out of an endless competition style television show.

Lauren Paylor cocktail Drink Masters


What were some of those things that mattered to you?

So my values are the following: innovation, accessibility, inclusivity, community, education. Those were things that I really thought about, in and out, when executing all the drinks that I put out; when considering what ingredients to utilize and the way in which I wanted to utilize them; and then most importantly, coming out of this experience, with the types of people that I get to work, with the places that I get to go to, and the products that I put out.


Can you tell us more about your platform, Focus on Health?

So Focus on Health is a platform that was founded during COVID. And it really was, for me, a love letter to the industry. Alex [Jump], my co-founder, pitched this idea for Focus on Health when she was competing in a bartender competition. It’s a platform that basically challenges bartenders to create a cocktail, but also to consider a very, very important question, which is, what is the thing outside of food and beverage that inspires you, that drives you?

We're in a very unique position in bars and restaurants in that our vocation, our work, our passion is compiled into the one thing that we do on a day-to-day basis. And so her response to that question was, “I want to continue to advocate for people taking better care of themselves in food and beverage so that this is a long life career.”

While she was going through this journey and pitching this and showcasing it on the internet, I reached out and was like, “Hey, we're very aligned in this mission, and I'd love to partner with you on what you're planning to do.”

So we got together and essentially created this platform that was basically virtually driven and focused for two years because of COVID. And out of that what we were able to do was create programming where we partnered with other wellness professionals who knew their sector well; we never position ourselves in a position where we are helping all those professionals because we’re bartenders. But what we do is use our expertise and curate programming that is very much in line with the needs of food and beverage people.


One of the services Focus on Health offers is no/low program development. Over the last few months, I’ve seen a massive increase in interest and focus on the no/low sector. What do you think has led to this increased interest?

People are taking a bigger interest in taking care of themselves. And when you take care of yourself, it feels good, it's good for you as well. For me, I love seeing it, I love seeing that prioritizing wellness and feeling good is the shift that's occurred.

For a really long time, I found myself in a position where I wasn't taking the best care of myself. I was so ingrained and focused on my craft and wasn't getting enough sleep and put all the things that are are very essential to have a sustainable career in food and beverage to the wayside. That transition that's occurring now is really, really powerful, and it  obviously has a big influence not just on our community and ourselves, but consumers as well.

I think the educational component in that space [is important] and ensuring that education is utilized as a tool that can help continue to drag this category forward and really ensure that we are redefining the way we look at non-alcoholic beverages. It can't be defined as spirits, sugar, bitters, water. It's actually how do take what's lacking from spirits and incorporate that into NA and continue to make beverages that tell stories, take us on a journey, provide education, and, most importantly, provide the same experience, if not a better one, than everyone else who chooses to imbibe.


Any predictions for what we can expect from the no/low category in 2023?

For me, truthfully speaking, I'd love to see a bit more of a focus on education within the category. There are so many amazing products, but when a consumer goes to the store, and they don't know how to utilize it, it's kind of a disservice to them. So that really is going to be a huge responsibility to place on bartenders, distributors, and sales representatives alike to ensure that we're doing our due diligence and educating folks on how to utilize this tool.

Lauren Paylor
(Photo by Jorge Meza)

 And even with bartenders, if a guest comes into an establishment, and they taste an non-alcoholic beverage, and it's not good or it's not showcasing the true ability of that product, then we just did ourselves a disservice, and we're kind of starting back from square one. So I think it’s about continuing to educate ourselves as well. There's always growth that can occur, things that we can learn, and we should be pushing those boundaries in regards to what's possible within the category.


What are your top factors for creating diverse, inclusive, and safe spaces for staff in an on-premise venue?

I think it starts with understanding that it's not necessarily just the responsibility of the individuals who own those spaces; we have a responsibility and a right to speak up when these instances occur that make us uncomfortable, or are just not safe for everyone involved. I'm an advocate for being honest and being direct, being assertive when necessary but also respectful, because we have as much a responsibility as everyone else in those rooms.

For a really long time, I was a trainer with Safeguards, but I thought it was a really great tool to have this ability to identify those instances where spaces are not safe and to be able to spread that knowledge and education. More importantly, with the spaces that I'm creating with my mobile bar, event production, building teams, and hiring bartenders as contractors, I also have a responsibility with the language that I use, the interactions that I have, the education that I'm providing them with to empower themselves, and the tools and assets that I provide them whether that is lending them the knowledge of contracts.

So I'm trying my best with everything I do to take those lessons that I, unfortunately learned the hard way, and to share them with others.


Do you have any advice for other women in the hospitality industry?

I think one of the biggest lessons I learned this past year was that nobody has your back like you have your back. Be an advocate for yourself. Be grounded in what your mission and what your values are. Let the people who are your biggest supporters and cheerleaders that you are appreciative of them and their time, pay it forward where and when you can.

The biggest lesson though was to never let anyone dim my light, and to never let anyone’s reality of me become my reality. Make changes where and when necessary, but don't let that disrupt your course. Allow it to channel and funnel you to do better and bigger things.


What’s next for you?

There are so many wonderful things.

I'm going to continue to be a huge advocate for the RTD sector with my ownership in Siponey, which is a big deal because I think there are ways to navigate that space that allow us to be more informed, and, quite honestly, more impactful consumers.

What I mean by that is, I think that one of the most powerful tools consumers have is the dollar, and where we choose to spend our money ultimately makes such a big impact. Do your due diligence and learn the stories of the brands that you're supporting and purchasing, understand their mission, understand the ingredients that go into the drinks that are being made. Because if you take the time to look at it, you'll really learn a lot.

Why would we consume something that isn't made well and doesn't have a good mission when we have the choice and option to do so. We're not talking about people who are having a difficult time with accessibility, we have to acknowledge that we cannot ignore that component. That's so important. But for the people who don't have that issue, be a powerful, impactful consumer.

I'm going to continue to do programming that allows me to continue to connect with consumers in a way that displays the more nuanced elements of what we do. And the other side of that is continue to work with bartenders who can help me elevate those messages, stories, and their respective backgrounds and cultures.

I'm just happy to be in a position where I can share my story but continue to assist in sharing other people's stories as well.


Plan to Attend or Participate in Bar & Restaurant Expo, March 27-29, 2023

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