Companies operating in the local restaurant and retail industries know all about competition.
They must constantly review their own quality, variety, price and service standards to see how these match up, while also having to concern themselves with higher rents, rising operational costs and increasing salaries.
"It is a constant challenge, but the thing to remember is customers want quality food and service and to feel they are getting value for money," says Ada Wong, manager for human resources and training with Delifrance (HK) Limited. "Having a cosy ambience is important, but in busy commercial areas, efficiency and flexibility are what really count, especially during lunch hours."
Ms Wong adds that, to achieve the necessary standards, much depends on having a reliable back-up team to handle sourcing, purchasing and logistics.
Their responsibilities include understanding the latest product trends and changing customer preferences, so that they can cope with new or additional demand for specific items.
The logistics operation classifies products in two main categories — perishable food items and non-food items such as cups and drinking straws. Efficient delivery schedules rely on detailed planning and flexibility in case last minute changes are needed. This can happen if, for example, there are road closures, traffic diversions or special delivery arrangements required during holidays or weekends.
Meanwhile, the quality assurance department conducts regular and random assessments to ensure there is no variation of standards. They will inspect products, premises and procedures at different times of the day. The process even entails arranging lab tests for bacteria, checking the actual shelf life of food against the expiry dates shown on labels, and doing spot checks on suppliers.
In addition to this, there is a mystery shopper programme conducted twice a month by a consultancy firm. The results help in standardising quality across the various outlets and in identifying areas for further improvement or follow-up action.
As with any business enterprise, cost control and price negotiations are crucial, especially if a wide range of affordable menu choices is to be maintained. "
All our purchasing executives must have good interpersonal and negotiation skills to liaise with other departments and get the best deals from suppliers," says Ms Wong. "Good business sense is also essential because the cheapest supplier is not necessarily the best one and we have to protect our brand name."
As a matter of recruitment policy, Delifrance looks for personality and attitude before considering academic qualifications and work experience.
"When handling food items and providing service in any of our outlets, the challenge is to adapt quickly to a dynamic environment and to be willing to learn," says Ms Wong. "We promote a friendly and supportive company culture and, in terms of promotion, performance is the determining factor rather than years of service."
She adds that, although the company hires many young people, they must all show the necessary degree of maturity and be prepared to fit in with well-established operating procedures.
The company opened its first Hong Kong outlet in 1987 and now has 43, including MTR and KCR kiosks and bistro-style restaurants, with over 800 staff.
Special attention is given to being an equal opportunities employer, and Ms Wong says every effort is made to help staff adapt. "In one outlet, an employee who is deaf works in the kitchen," she explains. "The cashier will signal to her with a torch to indicate if a customer has a special request, so she knows exactly what to prepare."
Flexible recruitment procedures
Preferred traits and attributes
- Employs 50 per cent part-time staff to fit different manpower requirements in different areas during peak hours
- Internships for students and vocational trainees who can become management trainees after graduating
- Restaurant managers have the authority to recruit staff directly
- New recruits are briefed on the company's requirements, strategies and mission, to help them adapt to the culture
- Proactive and showing initiative
- Positive mindset and friendliness
- Excellent interpersonal and communication skills
- Willing to take on challenges
- Team player and able to adapt
- Willing to travel to find potential suppliers and new products