Bangkok Bars & Trends: 2015
Quickly approaching the end of 2015, the year has provided us with several tidbits and trends that we just didn't see in 2014. Here are some of the more interesting 'trends' we've witnessed in Bangkok through the last 12 months.
1.) Paper Cocktail Straws are this year's Mason Jars
While they do get soggy if they sit in your cocktail for too long, they add a lot of color and flair to your drink. Give it another 4 months before we se them everywhere. Just like the Mason Jars.
2.) Will Monster Soda be able to take a market share of the already crowded Thai energy drink scene?
3 years ago, Thailand was introduced to the European / American version of Red Bull. Now, and slowly, we start to see Monster Sodas on the shelves at Gourmet Markets and Villa. But at 125 THB a pop, will they be able to make it into a market already saturated with energy drinks? Thailand could sure use their deep sponsorship funds........
3.) Leo Beer on the Rise
Seeking that little extra flavor of Thailand? Or perhaps a local ex-beer-ience? Many people are. Singha beer's sidekick sibling is quickly emerging as the hip, 'beer-in-the-know.' Restrictive ad regulations have left the #WeAreLeo campaign with only a set of eyes overlooking the city (no beer bottle or text), which may confuse some tourists, but it's clear that this beer is becoming a hip alternative in Bangkok.
4.) Screwdriver listed on your cocktail menu? Really? Cape Cod too?
Every space on a restaurant or cocktail menu is valuable real estate. Yet, we still see too many menus with simple, standard cocktails listed. We're looking at you hotels. With so many other alternatives to suggest, why offer a drink on your menu that shows no creativity (or interest) and immediately dates you back to 1987?
5.) Where Does Service Charge Go?
With big changes in the last couple of months in the hospitality world regarding tipping and service charges (esp in the USA), in makes sense to have a better understanding of Thailand's own standard service charges -- the second part of the "plus plus" you usually pay each time you eat out. With an automatic 10% added to your dining bill, where does this charge go? Does it go to the staff? Does it go the house? When the staff ignores you all night, is the service charge warranted? If the staff is great, are you expected to 'tip' on top of the service charge? Always a complex issue, but one that always stirs up a good debate and some tough answers.
6.) Pirated "Fresh Products" and "Organic" products?
In a country that pirates everything from watches to luxury hand bags, what's keeping the country from pirating 'organic' produce or even 'fresh' items? Ever wonder why that fresh fish tastes a little frozen? But hey, the menu states "fresh." And that 'organic' coconut water. Are you sure? Is that Rolex real?
There are some really good venues keeping things honest, but at the same time, there are some that are not.
7.) The Use of Professional Consultants
With the Thai baht losing strength amid political uncertainty, we'll see more hotels and restaurants look to bring on freelance consultants to assist where needed. These needs will likely be in concept development, operations, and the bar. Unwilling to risk hiring any more highly paid expats or obtaining the always tough to get work-permit, hiring a seasoned professional for a couple of weeks or a couple of months will be the sound thing to do. We'd love to help.
8.) Filipino Staff are Making an Impact
1-2 years ago, only a handful of restaurants were employing Filipino staff. However, with many restaurants and bars catering to English speaking guests, English speaking (and perhaps a bit more passionate??) staff have become a huge advantage. We now see many, many more restaurants with Filipino staff. Guests are noticing.
9.) Table-Side Beverage Service
With special "chef's tables" and 'open' kitchens now as close to the guests as possible, it's now the bar's turn. Sure, while the bar(s) is usually right in front of the guests with easy viewing and access, guests now desire special presentations and more intimacy: roll out the table-side beverage cart. Who doesn't want your own bartender wheeling-up and making an Old Fashioned right in front of you for a more memorable experience?
10.) The Argument in a Thai Restaurant: "But I Can Get This Same Dish on the Street for 30 Baht" is invalid.
Yes, you can get a great tasting plate of kra-pow gai on the street for 30 baht. You can also get a hungry rodent scurrying up your leg or a cockroach crawling across your toes. You can even get this with extra-strength pollution sprinkled on top. It's all a Bangkok experience, right? Right.
11.) You Better Have a Bunch of Mobile Device Chargers
It's now assumed that all restaurants and bars will offer complimentary and speedy Wi-Fi. But this year's Wi-Fi is having somewhere to plug in your phone......ideally close to your dining table, if not on the table itself.
Let's face it, other than a good Stephen King novel, nobody's reading anything longer than 2 pages. So then, your restaurant manual (which has been pieced together from manuals at the Hard Rock, Hyatt, and Sheraton) is about 118 pages too long. The answer? Pictures or "Infographics."
13.) Culinary Schools to Start Adding more Cocktail/ Beer Appreciation Courses
The culinary schools are everywhere. The ones that do well, however, will be wise to offer a couple of cocktail classes or beer appreciation courses. The interest is there
14.) Free Standing Restaurants
With hotels understanding that hotel guests prefer to eat 'outside' the hotel, we'll continue to see more hotels turn their in-house food & beverage concepts over to stand-alone, or freestanding restauranteurs. The advantages are simply too many. That freestanding restaurants are more appealing to the local market tops this beneficial list.
15.) Everyone is Looking for Service Staff
3 years ago ASEAN flirted with allowing other ASEAN Nationals to work legally and freely within Thailand, which, understandably, had the hospitality industry hungry in anticipation. Ultimately, as it stands now, only certain occupations will have the benefits of being able to cross borders and work with ease. Thus, in the meantime, hospitality venues are forced to continue 'poaching' good staff from each other and often run their operations under-manned. This is, of course, unless Thai Airways folds and all 25,000 of their staff are looking to tend bar.
16.) The Return to FUN.
Let's face it, drinking and eating in Bangkok has become serious business. 2016 will be the year Bangkok returns a bit of the fun to dining and especially drinking. Gone will be cocktails that source ingredients from the caves of Nepal, featuring 43 ingredients, an ice ball shipped in illegally from the North Pole, stirred 125 times, and takes 35 minutes to make. In a time of great uncertainty, Bangkok will rely upon the basics and as always, be a very price conscious city with a great sense of humor.
Have fun with it!
Justin Dunne is the founder and managing director of Evolution48. Please see "Services Offered" for a full menu of options this boutique hospitality production firm offers.