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LET THE WINE FLO



"The high prices served as an impediment to consumers who wish to enjoy a glass with their meals. But while this might have been justifiable 20 or even 10 years ago, this situation is becoming increasingly untenable as customers become better travelled and more product-savvy," Donald LIM, whose family are owners of the Equatorial Kuala Lumpur.


Patrons – whether staying in, or just visiting, the hotel – can buy and take away the wines or pay a 10% service charge and 5% government tax if they prefer to drink it at Flo Bar itself. Or, indeed, in any of the restaurants in the hotel.


The selection in the temperature-controlled room next to the bar is offered at practically retail prices.

Story By Ch'ng Poh Tiong
Photos By Yew Xin Yi

Flo in Kuala Lumpur's Equatorial Hotel is a bastion for wine lovers.

The reason is because the selection in the temperature-controlled room next to the bar is offered at practically retail prices. Patrons – whether staying in, or just visiting, the hotel – can buy and take away the wines or pay a 10% service charge and 5% government tax if they prefer to drink it at Flo Bar itself. Or, indeed, in any of the restaurants in the hotel.

Flo is the brainchild of Donald LIM, whose family are owners of the hotel in downtown Kuala Lumpur.

Almost a decade strong, Flo commenced operations during the last week of December 2001, just in time to usher in New Year's Day 2002.

Flo had actually replaced a very popular outlet when it was launched.

"The Blue Moon Lounge it replaced had built up a tremendous reputation featuring nostalgic music along with ballroom dancing. The Blue Moon came into being in the mid-'80s and was a huge hit right from the start. In fact, it was a two-time winner of 'Tourism Malaysia's Best Entertainment Outlet' award and had an incredible following.

"I once heard a comment that anyone over the age of 40 in KL has his/her own Blue Moon story to tell. Coming back to the genesis of Flo, it was driven by several mainly marketing considerations. First, although the Blue Moon was so well-received, we recognized that it was quite atypical for this kind of outlet to sustain such a long run of success – 15 years by 2001.

"Secondly, in spite of its success, the Blue Moon audience was no longer growing and we did not think a simple renovation would be effective in attracting new customers if the concept remained unchanged. Thirdly, we looked at how Flo would fit in with the rest of the Equatorial KL," Lim informed.

Flo was conceptualized to take advantage of an increasingly sophisticated Kuala Lumpur clientele. While wine had been readily available, the market back in the early 2000s was relatively underdeveloped as the volumes tended to be small compared to other beverages. Donald Lim thinks this had to do with hotels historically pricing wine on the steeper end.

"The high prices served as an impediment to consumers who wish to enjoy a glass with their meals. But while this might have been justifiable 20 or even 10 years ago, this situation is becoming increasingly untenable as customers become better travelled and more product-savvy.

"We decided to challenge this norm and adopt a radically different approach, at least for our industry, to the way wines are bought, marketed and sold in hotels. Prior to Flo, wine sales in the Blue Moon (and the rest of the hotel) had shown steady but unspectacular growth. After Flo came about, the figures absolutely went through the roof and caught both ourselves and our suppliers by surprise.

"When we met with our various supply partners as Flo was being conceptualized, we really didn't have a whole lot to show, other than some nice sketches and a description of what we wanted to achieve. However, those who did buy into our vision have found their faith in us being amply rewarded in terms of increased volumes.

"We are very appreciative of the role our suppliers have played in helping make Flo the tremendous success it is today. We have had great success from just word of mouth and it is very gratifying that Flo is basically continuing the fine tradition of success and innovation in F&B that people in KL have come to expect of Hotel Equatorial."

Time, I think, to raise a toast to what is one of the best places to enjoy wine not just in Kuala Lumpur, but the whole of Malaysia.



All Rights Reserved · The Wine Review · 2013
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