Mixing it up

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 June, 2007, 12:00am

Natalie Ma Pui-ki, 23, service associate of the Lobby Lounge at the Island Shangri-La and winner of this year's Creative Classic Bartending Competition at Hofex

I joined the Shangri-La Hotel group two years ago after completing a two-year hotel and catering management course at one of Hong Kong's vocational training institutes.

For the competition, I trained for at least one hour a day for a month to get it right, and I am happy and proud of my achievement, but am looking forward to my next challenge.

My role with the hotel is not limited to bartending and, like most other hotels, I am cross-trained in several roles. I have completed a course dealing with fine wines and also a language skills course to improve communication with my customers. I will soon go to Singapore for two weeks to complete the Shangri-La's intensive in-house training programme.

I enjoy my training as I believe it bonds you to part of a team and allows you to develop, both individually and as part of that team. I also think the training shows a commitment on the part of the hotel to me as an employee, and this encourages me to think of my longer-term prospects with the hotel and makes me think about where I want to be in five years.

As well as a commitment to training, I still have a job to do at Shangri-La's Lobster Bar & Grill, where I mix cocktails, double as a waitress or help out wherever needed.

On a typical day, I arrive at work and prepare my station. The first job is checking my appearance. Am I presentable? Then I check all the stock to ensure that I have sufficient quantities of everything. It is unprofessional to run out of an important ingredient and keep a guest waiting.

Next, I will check all the fresh ingredients to make sure that they really are fresh; limes, lemons, cherries ... literally everything I may need; and equally important, my cocktail tools (shakers, glasses, stirrers, that sort of thing).

Once I am sure everything is ready and prepared to a high standard, I am ready to start.

I understand that the essence of a good bartender is not just in the efficacy in preparing drinks, it's also all about the customer and communication.

I enjoy meeting people, so this makes the job so much more fun. A good bartender should always smile and try to make the guest happy.

As a young woman in a profession deemed masculine by many, I believe bartending can be an option in Hong Kong as a career for both men and women. I had no idea that I would come to see this job as my career, but it is so much fun. For the future I would just like to continue gaining more experience and the training in Singapore is part of this progression.

I've learnt so much and have developed skills that I never expected to. Young people considering this industry as a career should give it a try. It's fun and interesting, and every day is different. You learn so many different tasks, not just how to make drinks.

For young women, I think there will be many possibilities in the future as Hong Kong people become more used to seeing women in many different roles.