September 4, 2015
He’s been at it for 25 years. We spoke to bartender turned operations manager now at Lawry’s The Prime Rib Singapore, Mr Imran, about his cocktail shaking days and that time when he failed at performing a flair; to how he eventually found his place in food operations.
Image via Daniel Goh
How did you get started with bartending?
I was working at a hotel then. There was an anniversary event and they were shorthanded. My manager got me to help out in the bar, which was the first exposure for me. I was really afraid. A customer asked me for a gin tonic and I had to measure everything. “Was I correct? Am I accurate?” All these questions were running through my mind.
But very fortunately, the senior bartenders were very helpful and always taught me whenever they can. Once I got more experienced, I didn’t have to use the jigger anymore (achievement!!). How I eventually became a bartender was quite interesting. My senior bartender was a man of little words. I, on the other hand, was always bombarding him with plenty of questions and always talking to guests. One day he said, “I think you should be in the bar instead of serving customers outside.” I eventually did it for 5 to 6 years.
What happened after your first bartending job?
I went on to a few different places, all as a bartender. I wanted to learn more, understand the market. It made me realise the difference of being a bartender in restaurants, hotels and pubs.
In what ways were they different?
Hotels and restaurants focused a lot on your personal presentation and attitude, you have to look professional. There was a greater emphasis on personal presentation and attitude for hotel and restaurant bars. Bars and lounge on the other hand are more casual, you can have fun your way. Lesser restrictions. And you get to keep your moustache. (laughs)
But the more notable difference for me was that I learnt more about drinks and cocktails in bars and pubs. Hotel and restaurant bars taught me a lot on wine, which I eventually came to appreciate more than cocktail making.
Have you taken part in any bartending competitions?
Never did any because I wasn’t experienced enough. Even though I had 6 years as a bartender, I was at too many places: bars, hotels, restaurants. I enjoyed every moment, but [I also knew] I wasn’t focused.
It was also during that time I figured my real passion and interests lie in operations. Speaking to my guests was the thing I enjoyed the most. After being in this industry for 25 years, I still love it. There are ups and downs, no doubt. But I’m really loving what I do.
What is your approach in making cocktails?
Keeping it simple. Have easy to memorise recipes, and straightforward steps. The thing about complicated concoctions is that chances are you are the only person who can mix it. It’s harder for others pick up. When you pass the recipe to your staff, they might not be able to convey 100% of you what want. It could be the flair, the way they shake etc. That all affects the ultimate taste.
Lawry’s The Prime Rib Singapore uses Gryphon Tea in the cocktails, why did you guys decide to incorporate Gryphon Tea into your cocktails?
All along we have only been doing Gryphon Tea hot brews. Then one day we were introduced to a few cocktail recipes by Gryphon Tea Company and I really liked how the teas tasted as a cocktail. Since then, we never stopped experimenting and creating new flavours. Gryphon Tea is a little bit expensive, but I know I’m paying for quality. I’ve tried a lot of teas but Gryphon Tea stands out the most to me. What’s most unique to me is the versatility of the teas. They taste good no matter hot, iced, or as cocktails and mocktails.
When you think of Gryphon Tea, what is the first flavour you’ll think of?
What do you think of the tea-infused cocktail trend?
Well it’s healthy (laughs). And they taste good.
What’s the most important skill a bartender should have?
The ability to communicate with the guests. If a bartender can’t communicate well, he loses the customers. In any restaurant or hotel bar, the first person a guest approaches is the bartender. A bartender is like a therapist: when customers have a problem or had a bad day, they pour it out to the bartender. They must have good knowledge not just on the beverage, but also be very observant towards what is happening around them. General knowledge is also important.
Any bartending disasters?
There was a guest who asked me if could do flair. I wasn’t good with flairs during my early bartender days, I was well aware I’m not good enough but I was a little tipsy and thought there’s no harm just trying hahah! Not surprisingly, I dropped the bottle. The embarrassment is one. What’s worst, the bottle costs over $200. That’s when you start scolding yourself, “WHY DIDN’T YOU USE AN EMPTY BOTTLE?”
That wasn’t the greatest part of my nightmare. The customer walked up to me, took the bottles, and started to perform some flairs. It was brilliant. People started clapping. He tapped me on the shoulder and said, “My friend, you need more time to learn. However, take this as a lesson learnt. Come, drink with me!”
Turns out, he’s a master bartender.
What’s a TGIF drink like for you?
If you could go to anywhere in the world for a meal right now, where and what would it be?
France and Italy. They have great wines. I’m really into wine, and of course, their food.
Complete this sentence, “It makes me the happiest when…”
When the guests leave the restaurant happy.