Like an Empress Dowager, my mom loves to hold court at The Good Beer Company.
Regulars would have noticed a jovial, portly elderly lady often seated at one of the tables right in front of our stall. If someone fitting that description ever offered you food or tidbits - some grilled or fried chicken wings, potato crisps or other snacks - when you’re seated in the area nursing a beer, that’s probably her.
Mom would even chat up random strangers, and discuss anything and everything under the sun. My friends would try to get her to spill some juicy gossip about my (relatively) misspent youth, some even get relationship advice from her (why, I don’t know).
She loves hanging out at The Good Beer Company because she enjoys watching her elder son - me - at work. She’d stare proudly, in a somewhat creepy way, as I go about serving customers or even if I’m just stacking beers on the shelves.
I know she’s proud of me. And I don’t mind that at all - until it interferes with business.
The problem is that Mom has a nasty habit of parking herself in a spot and start ordering Beer Uncle and I around.
"Order dinner for me. I want fish-head noodles tonight."
"Get me a beer. I want something light and fruity."
"No peanuts? Where are my peanuts?"
She’d do this even if we were busy serving customers. She’d order us around, even though there’s a relatively huge-ass sign hanging above that says “SELF-SERVICE”. She’d come on Fridays, on our busiest evenings, and place her demands, #likeaboss.
She’d make Beer Uncle - her brother-in-law - scurry around. I know he’s unhappy about it sometimes, but he bears with it.
And I know her long enough to know that she does this is because it is an ego trip for her - that as a mother she gets special attention, and that people around her is at her beck-and-call.
Well, the thing is, I am trying to run a business and make a living here. I have customers to serve, and a hundred things to do at the same time. When I’m at work, I don’t have time to listen to you talk about your bad luck at mahjong, how well your favourite nephew is doing, why I should vote PAP (yeah, really, why?), how useless your colleague is, how your younger son - my brother - is not answering your calls, or that your best friend’s son is getting married. I don’t have the time to run to another stall to order your meal, and get you an extra pair of chopsticks or some extra chilli. And when we’re busy, I most certainly don’t have luxury to sit down and have a beer with you.
Neither does Beer Uncle.
Because of this, I told her nicely to let me know in advance when she’d be coming, and also not to come on Friday evenings because that’s when we’re most busy.
And true to form, like a recalcitrant child testing the boundaries of a parent’s patience, Mom appeared the very next Friday. Without any warning.
"Oh, it was a last-minute decision," was her breezy excuse.
So I totally ignored her. Her demands went unanswered; I gave her nary a glance. I showed her a magnificent display of how grunting was as a form of (non) communication.
Three days later, I told her - in no uncertain terms, albeit as respectfully as a son should to his own mother - exactly why I ignored her. And how her presence can be disruptive to business.
"What if a customer doesn’t know you’re my mother and wonder why they’re getting inferior service?"
"Do you really expect me to run your errands when I’m serving my customers?"
So I told her if she’d ever want to come down on Fridays again I’m going to treat her like any customer - pay full price, self-service. No. special. treatment.
Yes, I laid down the law.
How can you do that to your own mother, I hear you decry.
Well I can, and I did.
Because when it comes to business there’s a time and place when you can be family, and there are times that you simply can’t. Small business owners need to draw the line when it comes to family - you have to decide what’s the right thing for the business, and how your family fits into that. And that especially matters when you have employees - if they see that you can bend or break the rules for family, why should they have any respect for those same rules either?
And put it this way - if you’re a salaried worker, you certainly don’t expect your parents to visit you at your workplace in Shenton Way at any time while you’re busy earning a living
So why should I?