They may have been given a bad name, but beer promoters here say they are just doing their job.
A 43-year-old promoter who wanted to be known only as Qing Qing, said she started selling beer about two years ago to support her daughter who just graduated from university.
The Chinese national works six days a week from 6pm to 11pm, earning $35 per shift, excluding commission and tips. She chats with customers, asks them if they want a bottle of beer and pours the drink for them.
Occasionally, she encounters drunk customers who scold her for being inattentive or slow in serving them. "Usually I just stay away. I won't ask them to buy more beer if I sense that they are already tipsy."
Customers may also try to touch her hand when she serves them, but that is as far as it gets, she said.
There are about 600 beer promoters here. Many come from China, Malaysia and Vietnam, and their ages range from 20s to 40s.
Hawkers said promoters are paid about $1,000 a month by breweries and earn a commission of five cents to 10 cents a bottle.
Competition for beer sales can get stiff when there is more than one promoter around. "They have to move really quick so as to make sure they get the customer the moment he sits down," said a beer promoter in her 30s.
Qing Qing is aware of the impression some may have of her job, but maintains that she is just here to make an honest living.
For instance, she constantly refills her customers' beer glasses as it is a job requirement, not because she wants them to buy more beer. "What you do is your own business. I don't bother about what others say," she said.
Clampdown on beer promotion at hawker centres after feedback
A recent clampdown by the National Environment Agency (NEA) on beer promotion in hawker centres was a result of "feedback" from patrons and stallholders about problems it was causing.
Disamenities include touting or harassment of patrons when promoters compete for business. Active beer promotion also leads to drinkers hogging tables for hours.
In a letter sent to a hawker, NEA said it had conducted a joint enforcement inspection with the Singapore Police Force and found beer promoters at the hawker centre. The agency then requested the stall to "cease engagement" with the beer promoters.
It has not been allowed in hawker centres for those reasons since 1995, said NEA, stressing it would investigate and take enforcement action if it got such feedback.
Breweries were asked a few weeks ago to remove their promoters from the 107 markets and hawker centres managed by NEA. The spokesman said beer companies and stallholders had been "generally cooperative" after being reminded of the regulations.
Only a small number of hawker centres actually have any beer promotion at all, she said.
The clampdown is likely to drive beer promoters to coffee shops, which are privately owned.
At least one brewery, Lubritrade, which brews Dester beer, has said it would redeploy promoters there. The Straits Times understands that Asia Pacific Breweries (APB), which hires a majority of the estimated 600 promoters in Singapore, will likely do the same.
A major coffee shop chain operator, who did not want to be named, also made a request yesterday to beer companies for more promoters.
Hawker stallholders, in the meantime, are chagrined. Mr Charles Law, 30, who manages two drink stalls at a hawker centre in Whampoa, said: "Coffee shops and hawker centres both serve the public. Basically, we are the same kind of business, why should we be treated differently?"
He said beer sales had fallen by at least 30 per cent since the ban.
NEA also said beer promoters cannot work in hawker centres, in any case, as they are not stallholders or registered stall assistants.
Ms Shannen Fong, head of corporate relations at APB, the maker of Tiger Beer, said NEA also permits only Singaporeans or permanent residents to operate or assist at hawker stalls.
Many promoters here are from Vietnam or China, and earn a basic monthly pay of about $1,000, plus tips, to sell and serve beer.
They can work at coffee shops, as long as coffee shop owners abide by foreign worker quotas, said Mr Hong Poh Hin, vice-chairman of the Foo Chow Coffee Restaurant and Bar Merchants' Association.
Meanwhile, coffee shops like the three owned by Mr Thomas Foo in Sims Drive, Geylang and Tampines are doing a brisk trade.
Said Mr Foo, 63: "The beer drinkers are usually regulars, but we are seeing new faces now."
The new customers said they had made the switch to coffee shops as "no one is pouring beer for them" at hawker centres, he said. Mr Foo added that business at his coffee shops has jumped by 30 per cent in the past two weeks.
This article was first published on May 21, 2015.
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