Hotel / Catering

Casual dining experience

by Carmen To

Henry Yip, chief executive, Pizza Hut

Reacting to change allows restaurant chain to stay one step ahead

Give friends or family the chance to grab a slice of pizza and very few will turn down the invitation. They know the atmosphere will be relaxed, the food filling, and there will be enough choice for everyone to find one of their favourite combinations.

That is largely thanks to the efforts of people like Henry Yip, chief executive of Pizza Hut in Hong Kong. His team keeps close track of changing tastes as part of the company's strategy to increase its market share and target new customers in different age groups with updated menus, alternative ingredients and innovative side dishes.

Mr Yip admits to learning a lot in his previous position as the company's general manager for South China, covering the provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi and Hainan as from 1995. "I attempted to change eating habits and introduce new quality concepts for mainland customers, with encouraging results," he says. "When I returned to Hong Kong in 2003, I carried on spreading the word."

His current mission is to give the public good food, service and ambience at what they consider a reasonable price. One initiative, based on the popular concept of "afternoon tea", is to offer a snack or meal in mid-afternoon for as little as HK$18, in order to broaden the customer base. In addition, to become a local leader in "casual dining", the company has shifted to offering more distinctly European flavours in recent years, as a way of making the brand appear unique to customers.

Home delivery

Mr Yip has overseen efforts to create an attractive dining environment and to add a-la-carte salad, side dishes and desserts, which make the overall dining experience appeal to a wider group of customers as well as families.

"Our latest business plan is to go online because we have to keep pace with technology and reach out to the maximum numbers of customers," Mr Yip says. A convenient Web-based ordering service will be launched in June, giving an alternative to ordering by phone for home deliveries.

There is also a new focus on having healthier ingredients and making it possible for diners to calculate the nutritional value of what they eat. "Basically, on our menus, we advocate a reduction of carbohydrates and an increased amount of protein for a better balance in the daily diet," Mr Yip says. "Customers can still satisfy their appetites, but with healthier combinations."

Service recognition

Pizza Hut's service and operational standards have landed numerous awards over the years, including from the Hong Kong Retail Management Association and as one of the most honoured brands in the safety awards organised by the Labour Department in 2005. "These awards strengthen the faith of customers in our abilities and show our staff that their efforts and achievements are recognised in the wider community," Mr Yip says. It also shows that he is leading the company in the right direction.

A recent programme called "Work A Shift" encourages staff, including those in the back office and in senior positions, to take a turn in the restaurants and serve customers. "This helps in understanding how the actual operations work and finding out ways of dealing with practical difficulties, so we can then improve the service," Mr Yip explains. He adds that the experience also shows other members of staff how important the frontline team is and means that they provide better support subsequently.

"The frontline employees deal with customers face to face every day, so we must equip them with the best resources in order to outperform other brands and really impress our customers," Mr Yip concludes.

Great experience

  • New initiatives such as "afternoon tea" and "casual dining" broaden customer base
  • Convenient Web-based ordering services an alternative to ordering by phone for home deliveries
  • Having healthier ingredients can satisfy customers' appetites with healthier combinations
  • Industry awards strengthen the faith of customers and show staff their efforts and achievements are recognised
  • "Work A Shift" programme allows staff to better understand the actual operations and how to deal with practical difficulties
  • Employees equipped with the best resources to outperform other brands and to impress customers

Taken from Career Times 19 May 2006
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