Fare Thee Well.
How long have you worked at Balans?
It’s about 17 years now. I applied to be a waiter first. It took a lot to work here then. The place had quite a reputation, you know. You felt like you had to be somebody to work at Balans and for me, a little country boy from Germany, it took a lot to apply…
How has Balans changed over the years?
It’s become much calmer, much more professional now. In the beginning, it was just about the waiters – good looking, twirling, singing, never minding about the food or the service. All that mattered was the drinks had to be good. But over time, as we expanded, things started to get more serious.
Have the customers changed as well?
I think so, yes. It’s much more diverse than it used to be, but the whole world’s like that. People everywhere are a bit less flamboyant, less colourful. It’s certainly less draggy. All the drag queens used to come in. It was a party. It was crazy the things that used to go on in here.
But all of Soho has changed – it’s all less interesting. It’s sad in a way. All the shops and things that really made Soho what it was are gone – the naughty little corner shops, the drag queens and dancers in their speedos promoting clubs on a Friday and Saturday night…. We still get the Hari Krishnas, though…
What celebs have you seen over the years?
Well, I managed to miss Lady GaGa twice. There’s been loads. Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin came in and had Thai Green curry so that must have been before her vegan madness. Kylie, Geri, Paris Hilton. We tend not to make a massive fuss over them which is why I think they come here – unless you’re Amy Winehouse getting caught smoking in the toilets as she did. Then we might have words.
What will you miss most?
The people I work with. It’s what it kept me here so long – is working with these people. During the hard times, they make it fun or they pull you through. People like Charles Cotton, our Financial Director and Robert O’Malley who looks after our Operations. Robert was my mentor at the beginning. I learnt so much from Charles – and he’s good at gossiping too. And some customers as well, you know…
I hope they still enjoy it without me being around. At the end of the day me leaving doesn’t really change anything. It’s still the same restaurant, same menu, same service, same waiters – hopefully…
Why are you moving home?
To be closer to my family. I don’t want to spend my entire life here. If I leave it any longer I think it will be too late. I’m starting a brand new life – new home, new friends. It’s scary. I now have to think about speaking German.
Do you have any advice for the next manager at Balans?
Figures are important, but so are people. Without people, the figures won’t happen. Listen to them, work with them.
What’s your least favourite memory of working at Balans?
My trial shift here. It was a Saturday night. I got shoved into a corner by the waiters. I wasn’t allowed to hold anything, carry anything. It was so busy. So I just stood there for 2 hours, trying to look interested. Robert was at the hatch so I had to do some food running. He shoved some plates in my hand, told me the table number and by the time I got to the top of the stairs, I’d forgotten it. So I took the food to the wrong table and I thought I’m never going to get the job. But Robert seemed to be quite impressed for some reason and set up a meeting with the then boss, Prady Balan. It was my birthday and somehow I managed to get the time wrong. I thought it was 2pm, but I was supposed to be there at 11am. It was so embarrassing. After that, I definitely thought I wouldn’t get the job, but they must have seen some shine in me and here I am, 17 years later, still shining away…