Flying low

The Aviator is Tung Chung’s newest pub, and the one that seemed to have the most potential. It’s in a good location under the Mei Tung Street half of Tung Chung Crescent, it’s spacious, and it’s licensed to open until 1am – a luxury, given that Starz Bar (previously the only watering hole within easy reach of the Crescent) starts stacking its tables before 10pm.

At the outset, many locals (myself included) were strongly supportive of The Aviator, voting in favour of their license in the face of opposition from the residents of Block 5, who were objecting on the grounds that drunken gweilos would leer at passers-by, and the vomit from the toilets would exceed the capacity of the estate’s sewers (I kid you not). When the pub finally opened, even before the license arrived, we piled in with cans of beer from 7-Eleven and tried out the restaurant. And later we drank their beer too.

Unfortunately, it’s all been downhill from there. The Aviator’s serving staff are (with a few valuable exceptions) unappealing jobsworths, hopelessly disorganised, and a couple even give the impression of being less than honest with the bills. Some examples:

  • I was in a party of six adults, in the pub for a World Cup match. With us we had the two year old son of one of the couples present. We had a table near the big screen, we’d all had meals, and we were clearly settling in for a long, long drinking session probably involving barsnacks. The little boy had a bottle of a fizzy sports drink from 7-Eleven. One of the waitresses saw him drinking from it, approached the table, addressed him directly, “I’m sorry honey, you can’t drink that in here”, and without further ado or even acknowledging his parents, she took the bottle from him. Cue screams, tears, and said child’s mother taking the waitress to pieces in the middle of the pub. And it was all pointless: they didn’t sell anything the kid would drink, so they weren’t losing any revenue from his fizzy drink.
  • The same waitress, later on, accepted a credit card payment from one member of the party and then failed to return his card. She wasn’t terribly interested in going to fetch it, and then made a huge show – for about ten minutes – of searching high and low for it. Eventually it made it back to the table, but by that time the risk that it had been cloned was too high and he felt it sensible to cancel it and incur the costs of replacement.
  • A pleasant muslim couple of my acquaintance went to The Aviator for some non-alcoholic beverages. They were told to seat themselves anywhere they wished, and since it was after food-service hours, that seemed like a reasonable idea. The serving girl subsequently informed them that the table they had chosen had a mandatory minimum order of $100 a head. Easy enough if you’re drinking beer, but something of a challenge if you’re on cokes and mineral water. Another example of mindlessly following rules and pissing off the customers.
  • On many occasions, the bill has contained drinks that we did not order. Sometimes it’s obvious (e.g. a pint of Guinness charged to a table that had drunk nothing but Stella all evening). I wonder how many times they’ve slipped an extra Stella onto that bill without us noticing. In a crowded establishment this may be forgiven, but on a quiet night in a suburban sit-down bar it begins to look suspicious.
  • The food service is amazingly disorganised. I’ve heard more than one person say they’ve waited so long for their meal that they’ve seen other diners arrive, order, eat and depart before their own food arrived. I’ve ordered side-dishes that haven’t arrived; rather than waiting for them I’ve asked for them to be removed from the bill, but they’re usually still there when it is time to settle up.
  • The sports corner is laid out in such a way that it’s impossible to play darts without spearing a pool player in the head.

I’d love The Aviator to be a good neighbourhood pub. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a mechanism to provide customer feedback. Often there isn’t even anyone there to complain to when things go wrong. On the night of the fizzy-drink-stealing waitress, when we summoned the manager, she informed us that she was in charge. That was a bad omen, right there.

We’ve returned to patronising Starz Bar. It might close early but the staff are delightful, they’ve got a good range of European beers, and the service is impeccable. As long as they keep that up, they’re in no commercial danger from The Aviator.

3 thoughts on “Flying low

  1. As the subject of the lost credit card episode above, I fully agree with your summary of the Aviator’s failures. Further reasons for revoking their pilot’s license:

    * After a meal with Richard, it was my turn to pay. The bill was presented for, say, $510. I put my credit-card down on the bill and a waitress carried it away to process it. She came back with the chitty ready for me to sign. I started to sign the credit-cart slip but then had a second look at the amount and at the bill. The slip was pre-printed for another value (something like $750). When I showed this to the waitress she showed no surprise and offered no apology but simply wandered back to her POS terminal and printed a revised chitty with the correct amount. We charitably put this down to badly trained staff rather than the unthinkable alternative, that they deliberately do this with the hope that customers are too drunk to notice

    * My visiting mother and father popped in for a drink. Mother ordered a G&T. After the usual interminable wait she was presented with a tall glass of pure, unadulterated tonic water. Staff were unhelpful and eventually the manager was wheeled out to taste the drink and he agreed that it contained no gin at all. A proper version was produced but if we ever go back we will all be on the lookout for any further examples of this kind of mistake/fraud (take your pick)

    * Serving staff are hopeless. They will let a newly arrived group sit for many minutes before asking what they would like or providing menus – even when they are almost empty (which is becoming the normal state these days). Look around the Aviator at any time of day and there will be at least one table frantically waving or trying to catch a waitron’s eye, usually without success.

    * Ordering the set dinner menu one time, my soup and main course arrived simultaneously.

    * Want bread with your meal? They will add twenty-something dollars to your bill. What other restaurant charges for bread? Want some vegetables with that pie? Then pay-up for another side dish.

    * One time I was in with number-one son. He ordered something with fries. He requested some mayonnaise for his fries (no, we are not Belgian) and the waitress told us it would be an extra $5 for that. After reluctantly agreeing to this, a tiny, thimble-sized paper cup of mayo was brought forth. I felt like squeezing out all the the free HP sauce and ketchup that was on the table to compensate. Was it worth $5 to annoy yet another customer?

    * They have an annoying habit of queuing multiple drinks orders into one huge delivery. Once, I ordered a simple pint of draught ale. The Aviator was almost empty. After more than 10 minutes, during which new groups had arrived and placed their orders, one of the waitrons lumbered past with a huge tray containing about 12 drinks which were laboriously doled out to the newly arrived customers and finally to me. I have no idea why they do this, it is intensely annoying.

    * It’s not cheap. You should expect LanKwaiFong prices for drinks and dinner. We were hoping for a price-point more in-keeping with its location in a residential area far from HK’s nightlife areas. This is not the place to drop in for a quick lager or two on the way home, at least not unless you are happy to spend upwards of $160 for it.

    * When they held ticket-holders-only events for Xmas and New Year, one of the two entrances was blocked by tacking a thick carpet over the entrance – probably in contravention of Hong Kong’s fire regulations.

    * When they first opened I was happy to see they had a full size pool table in the back. This quickly turned to indifference as we were informed they would charge $10 per game. What is more, it is not coin operated, but they said that the charges will be added to your bill (more chances for mistakes on the bill, methinks). They have made a potential unique selling point into a little-used annoyance – and yes, mind the darts players if you do try it.

    Given all these gripes, you may wonder why we ever set foot in the place anymore. To be honest, I don’t if I can avoid it. It is only the visit from my parents that brought me back in there recently because they find it convenient and warmer than the Starz bar’s outside terrace. Now they too are complaining about the delays and the gin-less G&Ts and will hopefully be taking their business to the much nicer Starz bar (we just wish they would stay open a bit later and install some toilets nearby)

  2. I visited the Aviator bar last time I was in town and would just like to make a few comments in their defence and to question whether any of the previous people who left blogs have any experience in the catering industry?

    Although the pool table/darts board problem is a blatant design error and I can fully appreciate anyone being cautious with their credit card, I would like to point out the Aviator has only been open for under a year and as such is still in its early development phase. What I would suggest is a slot, pay as you play system for the pool table, as it was tiresome having to go to the bar every time I wanted to play pool and an extra stress for staff who already had their hands full.

    Drawing on my waitressing experience while I was student, I would like to point out that bar staff are generally payed by an hourly/monthly rate with no bonuses for “stella errors” on bills. All profits from such things would go straight to the owners and not benefit the waiting staff at all. Therefore it is absurd to suggest these errors happen on purpose. More likely they were due to lack of training, which should be taken up with management. Poor service is a result of poor training.

    Maturity comes with age and I am hopeful that soon most of these early teething problems will have cleared up. Due to its ideal location it would be a real shame to lose this pub.

  3. Kym – whether or not I have any experience in the catering industry (I do not) is irrelevant. I have extensive experience at being a customer in pubs, and I know damn well when I am getting consistently poor service.

    (Actually, why is it always ex-waitresses who trot out the “I can see you’ve never been a waitress” line? You never hear it in any other industry. If I go into hospital and the surgeon amputates the wrong leg, they don’t normally respond to complaints with, “Do you have any experience of working in medicine yourself?”)

    Moreover, staff do indeed have an incentive to pad the bills. Service charge in HK is an automatic 10% (although in The Aviator it’s not automatically added to the bill, nearly all customers will add the traditional 10%). Therefore, if a waitron inflates the bill from say $500 to $700 they get an extra $20 tip. That’s quite a lot if you’re on HK waitron wages.

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