Hotel / Catering

Upmarket newcomers savour success

by Jacky Wong

Ellie Chan, area director
human resources & administration
Photo: Edde Ngan

Two international restaurant brands lift culinary and service standards while promoting employees training and communications

Hong Kong is well known for being a food-lover's paradise. As a result, the city has a competitive and fast-changing catering industry.

Merely offering signature dishes or upgrading restaurant interiors is no longer enough to make establishments stand out. Employee training and communications are indispensable for business success, says Ellie Chan, area director, human resources & administration, ZUMA and ROKA restaurants.

As well-known international restaurant brands, it is of utmost importance for ZUMA and ROKA to maintain their food and service quality in the face of stiff competition from newcomers.

Originally established in London, ZUMA serves contemporary Japanese cuisine while ROKA specialises in Japanese robatayaki. The former opened its first Asian branch in Hong Kong last year at the Landmark in Central. After just one year's operation, ZUMA Hong Kong was one of the five restaurants in Asia to be listed in the S Pellegrino World's Best 100 Restaurants by the US Restaurant Magazine.

Following ZUMA's success in Hong Kong, the company launched ZUMA in Istanbul early this year and in Dubai earlier this month. Meanwhile, ROKA also launched its first Asian branch in Macau last year followed by Scottsdale in Arizona early this year. The new restaurant at the Pacific Place Hong Kong that was opened in July this year was the 4th ROKA worldwide.

Diners at both ZUMA and ROKA are a mix of expatriates and locals who appreciate high quality contemporary Japanese cuisine and a value-for-money dining experience, Ms Chan notes. It is therefore important for the restaurants' employees to be well trained in order to offer excellent service, consistent food quality and a good dining experience.

Structured training

All ZUMA and ROKA employees receive structured training which is not readily found in other free-standing restaurants.

In particular, new recruits go through a comprehensive orientation programme introducing them to the company's organisational structure, restaurant concepts and product directions, helping them to fully understand the restaurants' specific dining cultures, brand images and service standards.

Afterwards, they are provided with at least two weeks' intensive training during which dedicated mentors, who are at supervisory levels or above, monitor and assess their progress and performance.

All employees receive a comprehensive operations manual to familiarise them with the restaurants' latest menus, wine lists, Japanese etiquette and company information. The manual also covers guest relations techniques and different service sequences.

"It is important that new recruits settle quickly into the new working environment especially during the initial few weeks of work because this is usually when they are easily stressed out and may subsequently resign," Ms Chan notes. "For this reason, we are flexible in accommodating individual training needs and will arrange for specific one-on-one training if necessary."

Employees who have been in the job for more than three months receive refresher training in service sequence, food product and up-selling techniques. There is also wine and sake training from Sommeliers from London and Hong Kong.

Open-door policy

With Hong Kong and Macau's thriving catering industries, many job opportunities have been created with competitive remuneration packages, restaurants can find it challenging to attract and retain good employees, Ms Chan remarks. However, the company finds that apart from training and development, good internal communications can effectively cultivate loyalty and boost performance.

The company has two objectives in internal communications: sharing with employees the restaurants' latest news and encouraging honest feedback from them. Managers give employees daily briefings before dining sessions to keep them abreast of the restaurants' news.

"General employee meetings are held monthly as we believe in two-way communications whereby employees have the opportunities to share their ideas and raise any concerns. This open-door policy ensures that employees share their thoughts and opinions with us," Ms Chan stresses. In addition, the restaurants also organise regular staff outings and get-togethers where family members are also welcome to join in.

Both ZUMA and ROKA are currently hiring direct-entry level positions such as wait staff, bartenders and chefs. While experience is not a pre-requisite, candidates should have an outgoing personality and a positive and can-do work attitude, she notes.

Looking into the future, Ms Chan concedes that free-standing restaurants will continue to face fierce competition from hotel chains when recruiting employees. However, she is confident that the restaurants' brand, image and job opportunities will make ZUMA and ROKA one of the preferred employers for people who have the passion for the food & beverage industry.


Taken from Career Times 26 September 2008, p. C2
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