Since first arriving in Vietnam it was instantly obvious that the bar scene was non-existent. Recruiting any staff with a cocktail background was impossible, let alone confidence to approach guests and ask their preferences.
There was only one solution to fix the problem: training. Making a training program from scratch to teach the bartenders was the easy part. Translating and implementing the knowledge was the harder part.
Learning any profession from scratch will not happen overnight. The task ahead was to deliver the highest standard of service and attentiveness from a rookie bartending rag tag team consisting of enthusiastic, young would-be bartenders.
Over the years, the first generation of bartenders that successfully passed the original 8-week bartender boot-camp course I made back in 2012, gained experience at an exponential rate when they entered the real world. They soon became confident to branch out and start consulting and training themselves.
The ones that were successful have a special story. Keeping their eyes open, staying humble and listening to every advice they were told, they gained good reputations for honest work, showing the ability to hold the positions they were ambitious enough to strive for.
Sharing of knowledge was key to their success. Gone are the days of the chef keeping his special sauce recipe a closely-guarded secret. In the same way when I wrote the book Cocktail Art of Saigon as the main bar menu at Shri, the recipes and instructions on how to make all the signature cocktails are clearly marked.
In a country where Intellectual property rights don’t exist, the best policy is transparency.
In this way the recipes for cocktails can be correctly followed, and the drinks will be made in bars across the country the correct way and not plagiarized with a 10% change of the recipe and a different name hoping the bartender can get away with claiming the original inspiration.
So, onto cocktail competitions for the love of them.
These are essential to improve the confidence of the bartenders in a stressful situation.
Cocktail competitions can be embarrassingly rigged, with the result pre-decided. Sadly, bartenders in Vietnam look at winning a competition as being an excuse to call themselves a hotshot bartender.
Unfortunately, until you retain the title, show some humility and get back to work the next day on time then you don’t score any points with me.
Having witnessed this too many times in recent years I tend to discount the credibility of 90% of the cocktail competitions held in Vietnam due to vote rigging.
Bartenders don’t understand the spirit of true competition and refuse to re-enter the next year to retain the title, killing the spirit of the entire competition itself.
Shri Restaurant and Lounge manager Richie Fawcett is an artist who sits on Asia’s 50 best bars voting panel.