Business of Happiness

Business of Happiness

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IRENE LOO

RESTAURANT MANAGER AND

ASPIRING RESTAURANT OWNER

RAMADA AND DAYS HOTELS SINGAPORE

AT ZHONGSHAN PARK

What inspired you to join the industry, and why F&B? When I was younger, I helped out in my family’s coffee shop, preparing coffee and drinks for our customers. So I grew up knowing that my passion was in the service industry, especially in Food & Beverage (F&B). So when I turned 18, I started my career in F&B as a Hostess at a Chinese Restaurant.

One day, I was serving an Indonesian guest who came with his wife. The restaurant was running at full capacity, and there were no seats available, but I noticed that his wife was heavily pregnant so I found them a corner seat as soon as I could. When I was taking their order, they raised several questions about the menu and I tried my best to check with the chef to ensure that I could answer their questions accurately.

The gentleman turned out to be the Director of F&B at the Regent Hotel, and he was impressed with my service and knowledge. He asked me if I would like to apply for the position of Assistant Restaurant Manager at his hotel. I decided to give it a shot and went for the interview. Thankfully, I was offered the position and that’s how I started my career in the hotel industry.

What made you decide to stay on for over 15 years? I have a passion for food, but not just eating it. I like learning how to prepare the food. I started cooking for my brothers when I was in secondary school, and I’ve developed an interest in food ever since.

Can you describe what you do on a daily basis as a restaurant manager? First, I greet every member of my staff in the morning, and do a quick check of how they’re doing. I also try to interact with the guests when I can. After that, I’ll attend a meeting with the supervisors where we’ll look at reports and the list of events or VIPs we’re hosting for the day. We’ll then brief the team and disseminate any important information.

I also spend about 30 minutes a day training our interns or new staff members. I typically teach them about setting tables, menu knowledge, and share tips on how to listen to and interact with guests, how to handle complaints, and how to up-sell. They also need to know how things run behind the scenes so they can better communicate with the kitchen staff.

I also take night classes after work to get my MBA, while juggling my responsibilities as a mother. Although I’ve been working in the F&B line for a while, I wanted to upgrade myself and learn about managing a business as well.

How do you juggle being a restaurant manager, a mother and a student? I see every day as a learning opportunity, and I don’t want to waste a single second. Because I have a personal goal – to own a restaurant in the future. My MBA course gives me a deeper understanding of how to run a business, and I also get to learn a lot about the ins and outs of the industry. On top of that, everything I learn at work every day is really helping me get closer to achieving my dream.

After my MBA course, I plan to learn more about the culinary arts so I can understand how chefs work in the kitchen. That way I’ll know how to run a successful restaurant with a strong kitchen staff.

What motivates you to do all those things every day? I’m a very positive and passionate person. I want to be a good role model for my colleagues, and for my child when she grows up. To do that, I want to learn something new every single minute. I want to keep growing and my work at the hotel allows me to learn new things every day. I also hope that I can inspire the people around me to grow as well – no matter who they are or what they do.

Having a supportive and inspiring working environment also helps. I’m glad that I get to work with such great colleagues.

How do you ensure that a guest is happy during his/her visit? First and foremost, I have to be sincere in everything I do. Secondly, I’ll try make them feel comfortable and at home. If we have to, we’ll even make special arrangements to cater to the needs of children or older guests. For example, we’ll help parents to sanitise milk bottles for their children, or soften the food that we prepare so that it is more suitable for the elderly to chew and swallow.

What has been your most memorable experience so far? I once had a guest who came to the hotel restaurant to celebrate her mother’s birthday. Her mother was over 90 years old, and was wheelchair-bound. She couldn’t chew anything solid and required a soft diet. So we arranged to have her food blended for her. The guest was really touched by this small gesture. After all, everyone wants to make their parents happy, and thankfully, we were able to help the guest do that.

Because of that incident, she became one of our regular customers and even wrote a commendation letter to thank us for our service.

What have you learnt over the years in the industry? Besides expanding my knowledge about food and service, I’ve also learnt how to train and guide my staff, and groom them to become better at what they do.

It’s important for us in this industry to make sure we help and train others to be successful. I’m happy whenever I see my young staff members grow and improve in their careers. A few have even come back to thank me and invite me to their restaurants, where they are now managers and supervisors.

Did you have any mentors guiding you? One of my first mentors in this industry was the F&B director who recruited me back in 2008. He brought me into the hotel industry and groomed me to become who I am today. He showed me the ropes, and even sent me to get my diploma. He was very helpful, and was always there to guide me whenever I needed help.

Do you have any words of advice for those who want to join the industry? Try not to treat your job as only a job. You’re not just here to serve food or wipe plates. There are plenty of opportunities for you to grow in the hospitality industry. You get to meet different guests every day, and you can learn how to communicate with different types of people. You will learn to be flexible, and to think on your feet. You just have to be open-minded and take these lessons as they come.