Points of View from Asia
As we spin our virtual globe to Asia, four industry heavyweights, including World Class winner Bannie Kang, give us their perspective on bar life as they have come to know it and share positive changes they have made as the situation has evolved.
Getting a Grip on the Situation
Across Asia, bars and restaurants have been responding to different restrictions put in place by their countries’ governments.
For instance, White bar in Seoul, South Korea, belonging to Kevin Chang, is continuing to operate; however, larger bars and clubs across South Korea have faced mandatory business bans. Antonio Lai owns several bars across Hong Kong including Quinary, The Envoy, Origin, Vea, and Angel’s Share. He decided to close all bars voluntarily before the government enforced mandatory bans during the month of April.
Bannie Kang’s bar Bar Mu, based in Taipei, Taiwan and is still operating as normal, allowing staff and customers to see each other almost every day but taking necessary precautions. Nick Wu’s bar Mood, also based in Taipei, Taiwan, is able to stay open whilst practicing social distancing, however, there has been a noticeable difference in business.
From social distancing to temporary closures, different measures have meant both staff and customers are spending more time at home, affecting consumption patterns. The importance of responsible drinking is still as top of mind as ever and these professionals and their bars have been focused on the wellbeing and health of their staff, customers and business.
We caught up with all four of them on how they are responding to this challenging time.
Navigating a New Norm
Although we’re open, wellbeing and health and safety is obviously very important. As a team, we wear masks and track our temperatures twice a day in a log. We communicate with bartenders from overseas via Facetime. We also join and open virtual bars to continue engaging with colleagues, customers and other people in the industry.
We had to go out of our way to secure our own supply of face masks to distribute to staff. We pretty much gave up on buying commercial hand sanitizer, so we started distilling our own high proof alcohol which we combined with aloe vera gel and juniper essential oil. Social media has helped us keep in touch with the staff from our closed venues. Making cocktails at home is difficult in small Hong Kong apartments, but kicking off viral challenges can help our team stay connected and enthused. Personally, I have been using this time to make training videos to share with the team, focusing on bartending techniques that they may not quite fully understand, like spherification or making flavoured airs. We've had this idea for a while but have never had the chance to do it. Now, with all this extra time, there's no excuse and I think that's an important mindset to keep even if you're locked up at home. For a lot of our team, it's finally a chance to read that book or sign up for online learning resources for bartenders.
I have two businesses and my goal is to keep all employees. During this period, we are putting more focus on employee training to expand skills and knowledge. I conduct group discussions with employees once a week to look into different ways to extract flavours from ingredients (different parts, infusion time, temperature, etc.). Employees are divided into groups and each group chooses a different ingredient to research on. They then share their findings and demonstrate how their products can be utilized in drink-making. When bouncing around ideas like this, everyone can better understand how to use certain materials and how to get the best flavour from these ingredients.
Small Steps to Stay Ahead
As the delivery industry is booming, we will keep preparing alcoholic beverages for delivery in future as the consumption of alcohol at home is becoming more fashionable. As we service our customers at home, it’s important for us to give them the same level of customer service as we would in the bar and, of course, encourage them to drink responsibly.”
People do not have a proper place to store their masks, many guests put them on tables or in their pockets, which does not keep them protected from germs. Therefore, I contacted a nearby factory and commissioned to have mask holders made. These are distributed to our guests and employees, so they have a safe place to keep their masks - all you need to do is sanitize the holder. We have every guest fill out a form with their real names, travel history and health condition— 80% of the cocktail bars and bistros in Taiwan do this. We also make a note of where every guest sat, so they can be traced.
We give out our own customized mask holders to customers and staff to encourage them to always wear a mask. We meticulously ensure every table is distanced so that the customers feel safer when serving them. We also have a customer survey so that we know which measures we need to improve on. We have team buildings sessions with our staff weekly to let them know we are operating not as a business but like a family.
I would advise taking precautions to keep yourself, friends and families safe. Ensure proper hygiene and sanitation. Never give up and stay united to overcome this period because, at the end of the day, we all play a part, so we all have to learn to support each other through tough times.
In this time of uncertainty, the only fact we can rely on is that there is always tomorrow. We may not be able to see the end right now, but that does not mean we stop moving, we continue preparing for when normalcy returns. Any kind of project, whether it’s for your own personal growth or for the business itself, can be an important anchor to keep yourself grounded and sane.
For a point of view from China, and one bar’s journey from closure to reopening, read our article on Future Learnings from Hope & Sesame as owners Andrew and Bastien share their experience during this challenging time.
*Please consult WHO, as well as country specific legislation and guidelines when considering next steps for your bar.
- It is more important than ever to stay in contact with your staff and support one another
- Take appropriate safety precautions to protect you, your staff and customers.
- Use this time as an opportunity to upskill the team on techniques you’ve always wanted to master
- Stay positive and grounded by starting a new personal or professional project
- Consider starting or continuing cocktail delivery as its popularity rises
- Responsible serving, responsible drinking and moderate consumption are as important as ever and should be top of mind
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