The self-effacing drinks specialist who prefers to stay out of the spotlight indulges Tatler Dining with a quick Q&A

Largely seen as a cool, older brother to fledglings in the bar industry, Chee Keong Kho (better known as or CK) is that one person whom you can always approach for sound advice without fear of reproach. Customer interaction is what drew this veteran to the bar industry some two decades ago, so we're not at all surprised that Kho isn't keen on virtual drinking sessions. Get to know him better through our Q&A below:

How did the drinking scene change for you in 2020?

2020 cancelled all our plans, including bar programmes and guest shifts. We can no longer provide the same experience as before, as bar seating is no longer allowed. Plus, my team's friendly smiles are hidden behind their masks, which definitely dilutes the mood and their interactions with guests.

What measures did you implement at Coley and Pahit?

Besides obeying government mandated SOPs, we also sanitise our work spaces regularly. Something extra we provide our customers with are alcohol pads for wiping down their mobile phones.

TATLER TIP: Coffee by day, cocktails by night; Coley transforms into Transparent Coffee in the AM.

Did you decide to offer takeaway or delivery? What have you learned from this?

Yes. Offering bottled or canned cocktails has been one of the biggest takeaways for us during the pandemic. Learning how to package and to market such products, studying how different ingredients impact shelf life, et cetera. In the beginning, some found it interesting to drink at home and to attend virtual drinking sessions, but the trend won't last long. I, for one, didn’t attend any virtual drinking events at all. 

How did the pandemic impact your eating and drinking habits, whether at home or at work?

Thanks to the pandemic, I'm healthier than before. I've had more time for exercise and have reduced my alcohol consumption.

Did you pick up any new skills or develop a new passion during the pandemic?

No new skills, unfortunately, as I've been preoccupied with strategic planning and immersed in self-reflection.

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How has the F&B industry in Malaysia fared compared to elsewhere in the world?

We are lucky in that we weren't the first to be hit. It's been useful, being able to observe how our industry friends abroad have been dealing with the situation. Malaysia isn't considered too bad, as we're still allowed to operate, despite the smaller delivery window and shorter operation hours. Some of our neighbouring countries have gone without support from their governments and, worst still, are not even allowed to run their businesses.
How can consumers lend a hand besides, well, continuing to 'consume'?

Everyone's been affected by the pandemic, including the average consumer. I guess the best they can do is to share their positive experiences at their favourite establishments; this definitely helps to keep businesses going.
What do you think 2021 holds for F&B? And looking further into the future, how will bars and the drinking experience change as a result of the pandemic?

The pandemic has the potential to improve dining and drinking standards. Since online classes have become prevalent, most customers have tried mixing cocktails or cooking at home; this indirectly impacts their understanding of an experience and a product, so they'll make sure that their money is well spent when presented with the opportunity to dine out or to go for a drink. Us operators will also have to up the game to push the boundaries of hospitality.

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