The catering sector was among the many businesses that had a good year in 2006, enjoying widespread growth while under pressure to provide better service and more exciting menus.
"The catering industry is always pushing to reach higher standards," says Amy Wong, senior human resources manager, Birdland (Hong Kong) Limited (KFC). With 66 restaurants spread among most major shopping centres and in almost every busy district across Hong Kong, KFC is undergoing further expansion and constantly looking for new staff. Last year KFC held 20-plus recruitment exercises. As their target candidates come from diverse backgrounds to fit varied roles ranging from frontline positions to office staff, the company used various methods including recruitment booths, joint events with NGOs, internship programmes with universities, and career talks.
When office employees first join up, they must perform frontline work for two weeks. Also they must try out new restaurant products to get a better understanding of the business.
Such familiarisation programmes help build rapport and close working relationship between office and frontline staff.
The company offers numerous other programmes to ensure the quality of service. One is a mystery shopper scheme, in which all office staff take turns to become undercover customers to test the food and service in various restaurants. Under tight guidelines and detailed instructions, the standards are closely monitored.
Staff opinions are very highly valued, and the views of an experienced frontline staff can influence the way the work guidelines are revised.
Meanwhile, frontline managers attend restaurant excellence meetings in the main office once or twice a month to pass on to office managers details of emerging trends and other developments.
"People are our focus," says Ms Wong. "Our employees can rest assured that their hard work and achievements are always recognised and appreciated." Many awards are given to staff for outstanding performance. For example, frontline managers get cash prizes for good monthly staff-retention figures, while human resources personnel win awards for achieving training targets. Staff incentives are also aligned with the actual operating performance.
Emphasis on training
Training is tailored for an employee's individual role. For example, front-line workers are trained in customer service. Every year they attend a major workshop to obtain the latest market information and to refresh their knowledge. They also get language and communication courses so they can serve foreign customers. On the other hand, full-time managerial staff are taught stress management.
Even deliverers and part-time staff receive training and updates so they have clear guidelines and standards to follow.
Training and coaching play such an important role in the staff development in KFC that new management trainee recruits find themselves being coached and closely observed by the frontline manager while they perform their on-the-job Evaluation before the final job offer.
Such comprehensive training procedures help achieve a high staff-retention retention rate.
"We put a lot of emphasis on training," says Ms Wong. "This can bring out a lot of potential and confidence in a person that would otherwise remain buried."
Hire for character
As a company that puts more emphasis on character than academic achievement, KFC welcomes candidates from any educational and cultural background. Experience and initiative are also plus factors.
"We look for commitment, integrity, attitude, energy and a positive way of thinking," says Ms Wong. "But most important of all is a strong team player who likes people."
Every aspect of the catering industry contributes to the success of the business as a whole, therefore the ability to work as part of a team is essential, she explains
Today's booming economy means more career opportunities for those aiming to enter the industry. There are plenty of opportunities for good entrants once they are ready to move up the career ladder under the company's referral programme.
Ms Wong suggests that candidates should carefully consider if they are suitable for the industry and if they are ready to make a commitment. "Being able to demonstrate your dedication is important not only for getting a job, but also for developing your own character and career," she says.