tl;dr: Despite boasting impressive credentials (co-opened by famed Japanese cocktail master Hidetsugu Ueno of Tokyo’s Bar High Five), cocktail bar EAST END on the third floor of Taipei’s the hotel-of-the-moment Hotel Proverbs suffers from an abysmal lack of service. Could not recommend.
I’ve worked in some form of service before, and am friends with many F&B entrepreneurs and operators in Taipei. The hardest thing to find and retain, they bemoan, is good people; good staff. Good service cannot exist without good people – this is fairly obvious. Just how important is service? A venue’s interior can be exquisite; its credentials impeccable the location impeccable and the product itself – whether it be food or drink – highly lauded. Yet a gross disregard in the arena of service can undo it all. Service is what keeps customers coming back; what turns a new bar into a beloved haunt. Hotel Proverbs is a quality example of how lack of service can spoil a perfectly good venue – here’s why I’m not going back. We can start by discussing what good service is. It is:
• Consistent: Meaning that customers can come in expecting a similarly high-quality experience commensurate to the one they had last time – whether this was weeks or months ago. To be fair, each night has its own trials and tribulations. It’s just the human factor: the server may be having a bad day; the regular Thursday hostess may be sick. But a stellar example of this is Din Tai Fung 鼎泰豐. I live near the original location on 永康街 in Taipei. Each time I go, I can go in confidently expecting the same experience: servers are immaculate, efficient and seem genuinely enthusiastic, exactly as the last time I dined there. (Of course, it should be noted that Din Tai Fung’s salaries are amongst the highest in Taipei F&B). Din Tai Fung’s queues speak for themselves.
I’ve gone to EAST END at Hotel Proverbs (Taipei’s most chic hotel du jour) three times, each spaced approximately 2 months apart. The service was outstandingly horrible both times. When I message friends to complain, they recounted nearly-identical experiences. Note: this is not the kind of consistency I’m talking about above.
• Efficient: Making quality cocktails is a time-consuming process; far more difficult than pouring a mixed drink or cracking open a beer. It’s not expected that a trained bartender at Alchemy should put out drinks as fast as a shots-slinging model bartender at LMNT.
However, to have to wait 5 minutes for a menu, and then 15 minutes to get my order taken, and then another 25 minutes to deliver the drink: that’s 45 minutes. Thankfully, the group I was with is rather of the bottle-service variety anyway, and had already cracked open a Macallan by the time I arrived. If I’d been with a different group of friends, we’d probably have got up and left. (Or, I mean, ordered a bottle of wine. Let’s be real). This is a shame because a venue like East End supposedly prides itself on quality craft cocktails, and in the end, 80% of the group didn’t try them because no one wanted to wait 45 more minutes after seeing how long it took me to get my Sicilia Breeze.
• Educated: Even if a waiter isn’t the one behind the bar or in the kitchen, proper training would entail having him or her gain a decent understanding of the menu, as well as what bottles are available. At a bar like EAST END, I’d expect at the waiters at least read up on their signature drinks: what is used to make it, and why. Often, a good story “makes” a cocktail. At Ounce, the drinks are served with a full rundown of ingredients, and often an explanation of how it caters to my aforementioned tastes (you requested a gin-based drink with floral notes, so we’ve created a drink that incorporates – etc – )
East End is medium-sized bar. It seats about twice the amount of people at Ounce, so I wouldn’t expect such personalised service. But a friend asked for a recommendation from the glassy-eyed looking waiter, who offered the helpful suggestion of: “You can look at the menu”. 謝啦 – aiyo.
• The Soft Sell: The first time I tried EAST END, I brought my best friend, who also used to work in Taipei nightlife – in fact, for a much longer time than I did. The hostess didn’t even greet us or hand us menus before informing us that it we had to hit the minimum of NT$ 800 per person. It’s not that we were unwilling to hit the minimum (at NT$ 400-500 a drink, it was pretty feasible), but the abrupt tone was extremely off-putting; especially as they had already emphasised it when I made the initial reservation. Where was that sweet, sweet soft sell that works so well with slightly intoxicated people? In bottle-serviced oriented venues like the one we worked at (where commission is a factor in total earnings) the soft sell is crucial. I brought this up to my best friend, who didn’t hesitate to jokingly rattle off a sample soft-sell: “I’d suggest 2 bottles of Grey Goose, since you said you guys like vodka, and maybe three bottles of VCP – because, well, it’s Friday! That would secure your table for the entire night – and we’ll add 5 more people to your guest list.”
After my third disappointing experience at EAST END, I stormed straight home to write this post. Just kidding – remember the Macallan we cracked open? Let’s just say I didn’t get a second cocktail, and we just opened another bottle. I got really wasted and then went to HALO, felt shame, cursed my hungover self then next morning, then recovered and wrote this post.
Here are a few comparable venues with excellent service I recommend instead:
Read on for some recently opened and renovated Taipei bars.