Alvin Au Yong
In this interview, Alvin Au Yong, a bar consultant, gives insight into the industry and reveals some professional future plans.
What do you do?
I am currently a freelance bar consultant and a soon-to-be owner of a cocktail bar here in Kuala Lumpur.
How did you get into the industry?
Initially, bartending was a part-time gig I explored during my uni days in Adelaide as the work schedule was a great fit for my student life. It soon developed into a passion after being exposed to the bar community in Australia, and has taken me to Singapore, Melbourne, and Bali, before returning to Malaysia a few years ago.
What’s a fond memory from your travels that stands out?
I really enjoyed the moments during my solo travels where I headed off to the unknown without an itinerary or checklist of places to visit, soaking in the sights, sounds, infrastructure, people, and everything around me while being at peace of mind.
Share with us a story from behind the scenes.
In my opinion, behind the scenes of a bar is akin to performing arts. This is the rehearsal stage where the bar team prepares all the necessary mise-en-place such as alcohol infusions, pre-mixes, syrups, juices, foams, and garnishes, among others. Additionally, it is also the moment daily where we mentally condition ourselves for the night ahead on ‘stage’. It is a sight to behold especially heading into the weekend.
What’s the best and worst part of your job?
The best part about bartending is being a part of the rich culture, history, and community from the past, present and future, whilst sharing them with my guests, friends, and family. The worst part of the job would be the grueling hours till late night/early morning, but the satisfaction derived from being able to contribute to the happiness of others at the bar keeps me going.
What’s your favourite food and beverage pairing?
I do have a penchant for pairing chocolates with spirits such as whiskies and rums and regularly use it as garnishing for cocktails. In the words of a good friend of mine, “chocolate makes people happy!”.
What’s one of the scariest things you’ve seen behind the scenes?
There was once a scary moment towards the end of the night at the bar as my team were cleaning up after the end of service. A long ladder which was laid horizontally at the corner of the attic above was discovered to have been left standing and opened up at the top of the stairs. It spooked the whole team and we cleaned up as fast as we could and left!
The perfect day off would be…
Away from social media and tech devices, exploring places, food and drinks with my loved one.
What does Alvin Au Yong do for fun?
I enjoy mostly mellow activities during my time away from the bar. Recently, I found myself listening to a fair bit of classic jazz à la Frank Sinatra. I also swim on most mornings before beginning my day.
How has the pandemic changed you, your perspective, or the way you operate?
It has taught me to better appreciate what I have around me and to keep exploring what the world and life has to offer. Towards the end of last year, I made a career switch to the marketing field and worked full-time with a marketing agency. It was challenging but a great experience learning and being around positive people and businesses. I’m taking a break from it to focus on the opening of my own bar but may pursue it again sometime down the road.
What’s something you’d like people to know about being a bar consultant as a profession?
It is more than just being behind the bar making drinks. As with any other client servicing roles, results do matter. Hence, the marketing, branding, beverage program concept, staffing and management are some of the key factors I focus on for my clients. Making drinks behind the bar tends to be the easiest but also the most fun part as a consultant!
What’s your view on the bar scene in Kuala Lumpur?
It is good to see that a variety of bars are opening up here in Kuala Lumpur, providing people with more options on their nights out in town. However, I reckon we are still lacking in quantity and quality of bartenders to keep up with the openings. More attention should be given by business owners to staff development, especially on their mental health and wellbeing. Decent working hours with fair wages would also be a good start. A healthy and motivated bar team would more likely than not, lead to a better guest experience and revenue for the business.
What practices do you currently implement or hope to implement in the future to work towards social responsibility and sustainability?
My consulting projects have given me the opportunity to work with a number of younger bartenders. I set out to share my knowledge and passion with them hoping to inspire them further, similar to how I was once inspired by my experienced industry peers. I am fortunate enough to see that a number of them are doing well and still in the industry! Besides the ingredient focused sustainability initiatives by F&B venues which have been in the spotlight in recent years, sustainability in regards to people and their career in this industry is an aspect I believe should also be taken more seriously.
What’s in store for you in the upcoming months?
After a delay the last couple of years due to the pandemic, I have finally banded together with a fascinating individual who shares the same passion in regards to hospitality, cocktails, and craft products. We will be opening up The Rebel Penguin, a 20-seater bar in the city centre of Kuala Lumpur this coming July,
What’s something you’d like guests to know about The Rebel Penguin?
The Rebel Penguin seeks to bring together the past, present, and future in an intimate space with a focus on warm hospitality, quirky cocktails, and all-around good vibes. We rebel against the blind trend followers, we value camaraderie, dreams, and fun!