I spent a portion of last year working a side gig as a promotional sampling representative in LCBO’s throughout Ottawa. Simply put, I was a sample girl, trying to encourage you, the consumer, to taste and purchase my delicious alcoholic beverages. I was an independent contractor for two companies and represented diverse products including beer, wine, coolers and liquor.
I used to believe that everyone liked free liquor. Even miniature samples. I quickly learned that wasn’t the case – some people avoided eye contact, some were driving (although sample sizes are strictly regulated by LCBO guidelines), others felt it was too early in the day. Enthusiastic samplers, however, allowed me the opportunity to discuss the product.
The LCBO has set, standard sampling days and times. Thursday and Friday afternoons, you will likely find a sample table set up between 4-8pm. Saturday shifts were either 11-3, 3:30-7:30 or 1-5pm. Sundays were often 12:30-4pm. Long weekends were always busy. As I said above, I worked in LCBO’s throughout the city (Gloucester, Ottawa, Nepean, Barrhaven, Kanata, Stittsville) and quickly learned that each location can be very different in terms of both clientele and store staff. Each location had its own policies and procedures.
Sample people are independent contractors. I am repeating this because I want patrons to understand that I don’t actually work for the LCBO. I have to man my station – that is, the liquor – and can’t leave open alcohol or snacks on the table. I had to be self sufficient, walking into each store with a bag of ice (where required), snacks (pretzels, crackers, the occasional premium offerings), napkins, mini shot glasses (30 for $1 at Dollarama), hand sanitizer, serving tongs, muffin liners for snacks, corkscrews. I usually brought along Lysol wipes as well – some sample tables were considerably cleaner than the others.
I had to verify opening inventory with a manager or a senior employee. At the end of each shift, I verified the closing inventory. The agencies I worked for wanted me to sell enough product to basically pay for the sampling. They had to book (and very likely pay) for each allotment of time with the LCBO and the pressure was on to sell enough to cover their expenses.
There were a few common questions that people asked me while I was working as a sample girl. I would like to address them here:
- Did you try this beer/wine/liquor? Yes. I usually went into the back room before the beginning of my shift to take a small taste of each product I was serving. Having completed the Sommelier program at Algonquin, I was suspicious of marketing materials and needed to try each product for myself before being able to sell and discuss it intelligently. The one time I didn’t taste it (the store was extremely disorganized so I was a few minute late starting), the reactions of the patrons were so varied and colourful that I knew I was missing out on something magical. The product didn’t disappoint and was as strange as expected.
- Do you get to bring the leftovers home? No. The leftover products never left the store with me at the end of my shift. There were three options to what would happen after the shift, depending on the store. Occasionally a store manager asked me to pour the product down the sink and leave the bottles in the back room or the recycling. Some store managers/representatives took the bottles themselves to pour out. Some either asked me to leave the product in the backroom or brought it in the backroom themselves so that their staff would be able to sample and discuss what was being served. I was always happy to see the third option because I am generally critical of the LCBO – working there, and hearing some of the discussions between staff didn’t necessarily improve my opinion – and believe that product education is essential in the business. Tasting is a huge part of alcohol education and cannot be overlooked.
- Do you have to ID me? Yes. And if you don’t have an ID, I won’t serve you. Who comes to a liquor store without an ID?
- How much do you get paid? Seriously, this was a question. One agency paid $13.50/hr, the other paid $15. The one that paid $15 was difficult to deal with, however, as their payment wasn’t automated. I’m still owed money from an invoice submitted in July.
- Can you drink on the job? No. Sometimes, like when I am serving really delicious products (see Mad Tom & Twice as Mad Tom photos) I feel like a shipwreck survivor in a little boat surrounded by saltwater they can’t drink. Only, in my case, it’s delicious beer.
There are two types of LCBO stores in the Ottawa area, normal stores and “special event” stores. In Ottawa, for example, this includes the large locations at Rideau & King Edward and the newer store at Hunt Club & Merivale. Special event stores meant that everything was stepped up a bit – the snacks were catered by outside companies (instead of being purchased in the cracker aisle at Loblaws), usually La Bottega at the Rideau store, and were a higher quality. Meatballs, flatbreads, fancy cheese trays and chocolate truffles are examples of snacks you can find in the special event stores. Cups were usually provided and were the miniature plastic wine glasses instead of the Dollarama shot glasses. At first I liked the special event LCBO stores, considering it to be a bit of a special treat or a fun way to shake things up. I did get over that – parts of the special event store experience became a bit trying, to say the least. Higher quality snacks attract more people to the sample tray – chocolate truffles, for example, led to people who wanted to eat the snack but not try the drink. Or wanted to eat six snacks and begrudgingly sample the drink. I found that I had to ask people to politely not take multiple snacks – and in the case of the chocolates, at one point I had unattended children attacking me from all fronts. Downtown, at Rideau & King Edward, there was a cast of regulars known to LCBO employees and security staff, which led to a few awkward moments. An incredibly frustrating miniature wine fair, held at the Rideau & King Edward store over two days, turned me off working at the special event stores for good. For the consumer, however, these are an excellent opportunity for snack potential.
Is there anything you want to know about being a sample girl at the LCBO? Don’t be shy, I’ll answer anything!