Posts filed under ‘Starting-up’
Service staff (waiter, waitress)
Interested parties, please e-mail me with your CV (or description of your experience, if any) at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also call 6333 1335 to schedule an interview at our 8 Queen Street location (or just show up any day at 2:30 pm).
Full-time and part-time positions available.
Well, 5:40 am. That can only mean it has been another sleepless night. I don’t know whether to consider it insomnia or a mind that is trying to process a million worries a minute. Perfect opportunity to test out the new version of Writer (the tool that I use to write blog entries) that comes with Windows Live Essentials.
So it has been a little over a week since the Standing Sushi Bar at 8 Queen Street has been open. I am cautiously optimistic on how the business is developing. The dinner crowd has been consistently good (except for this past Saturday, don’t know why) and our lunch has been growing daily.
The construction hoarding for the courtyard canopy at 8QSAM has finally been taken down, much to my relief. With the hoarding up we were basically invisible – it totally blocked our shop from being able to be seen from the street so someone would have to really look hard or already know we’re there. Not the best situation for a new restaurant in the neighborhood!
There have definitely been teething problems, a couple things I remember are the gas not being refilled properly which resulted in us not being able to cook for an afternoon and fiddling with a plug in the bar area that caused the circuit breaker to trip and all electricity shutting down for awhile. We also have a point-of-sale system that seems to control us rather than help us. That’s what I get for always choosing the high-tech options.
One of the biggest changes for me is what I do at the restaurant. At the original One Raffles Place outlet, I’m generally active there – waiting tables, washing dishes, or being the cashier. It’s small and casual so I can jump in and contribute easily. The new Queen Street location is bigger and our manager (Crystal) has created a great system for service and ordering. So I can’t just start helping out without disrupting what’s going on. It makes me antsy not being able to do anything, so I try to hover by the bar and pour beer from the tap when ordered. Can’t screw that up!
An area that I’d like to focus on in the next week is the sake bar. We have over 30 types of sake, a bunch of shochu and varieties of umeshu, as well as the full range of Suntory whiskey. But here’s what we don’t have that would actually make it easier for people to order any of these things… an alcohol menu! It would be great to have various sake sets so people could taste the difference between a dry or sweet sake or any of the other characteristics.
On another note, I’ve been following the entries written by Bruce Buschel who also just opened his restaurant (Southfork Kitchen). He’s blogging his experience for The New York Times Small Business section.
Finally! Standing Sushi Bar at 8QSAM is opening this Monday, September 27. It’s a much bigger space than the existing One Raffles Place branch and with that additional space we have put in a full sake bar, a robatayaki counter, sushi bar, and a large kitchen. That means an expanded menu!
To celebrate, we’re kicking off a free flow happy hour! From 5pm – 7pm Monday through Friday, enjoy free flow of Asahi beer for 15 SGD. Come check out our new digs and celebrate with a mug or two or ten!
Outside of happy hour, we’ll have a plethora of lunch sets including bentos, donburis, soba, and sushi! For students with school IDs, we have special sets as well at student-friendly pricing!
Standing Sushi Bar 8QSAM details:
Located just outside of the Bras Basah MRT Queen Street entrance. Nearest parking at Hotel Royal or the SMU Administrative building.
Thanks for all the support that has helped make this second branch a reality!
So now I own two restaurants. The existing branch at One Raffles Place and a brand new one at 8 Queen Street. The first restaurant is open, the other is not.
While the renovations for the new restaurant are complete, I am unable to open because I simply can not find local service staff.
The restaurant at 8 Queen Street (8QSAM) is under a new company. Singapore dictates a new company must hire only citizens and permanent residents for the first 3 months. After 3 months of paying the Central Provident Fund (CPF), a company is then able to hire foreigners based on a ratio of number of citizens / PRs employed to foreigner employed.
I read about how people are worried that foreigners will be taking jobs from Singaporeans. Maybe in some industries that’s true but in the food & beverage sector it is not.
Last week I placed an ad via CATS (the classified ads system for Singapore Press Holdings). The job ad ran in the Straits Times classifieds over the weekend and also online via ST701.com.
I had 95 people respond to that job ad – 95 people that wanted a service crew position.
Guess how many were Singapore citizens?
ZERO. ZERO OUT OF NINETY-FIVE.
Two out of the ninety-five applicants were Singapore permanent residents. Only one showed up for an interview.
A few months ago I placed an ad with JobsDB. Similar results – out of something like 230 applicants only 4 were Singapore citizens or permanent residents.
This is crippling for a new small business.
Suggestion: Rather than require new companies to start off by hiring only citizens / permanent residents, allow them to hire foreigners also. Give a year (or two) for the company to hire enough citizens to accommodate the ratio required by the Ministry of Manpower.
Sorry to have such limited updates recently. We have been short-staffed and that resulted in many hours spent working as a cashier at the restaurant. When I’m not manning the till, I’ve been focused on the next project – Standing Sushi Bar is expanding!
In my head I am seeing advertisements and commercials for next-version of products: Bigger! Better! New and Improved!
In a way Standing Sushi Bar at 8QSAM will be all those things. We have a much bigger space – 3 times the size of the One Raffles Place branch. With so much space we’ll be able to accommodate all you folks that prefer sitting; there is a section for tables and chairs! (Is it weird that I have to trumpet this as a restaurant? ). We will also have the sushi bar, robatayaki counter, and a bar for drinks.
The list of things left to do is a mile long. Waiting on CPF registration, food license approval, staff to hire, dishes to arrive from Japan, creation of menu, marketing tie-ups, etc. I remember a year ago setting up the original branch, well, with the bigger space and larger menu there seems to be an exponential increase in things to do.
I’m thrilled to be opening in the Bras Basah area. I’ve lived in the neighborhood for over seven years, and it has always struck me as full of potential. In the past six months the area has really taken off – Bras Basah MRT opened, the old Catholic High has been redeveloped for retail outlets, Food for Thought moved into 8QSAM, and even dblO migrated to Queen Street! I think the combination of being in the city core while being low-key is great.
I’m looking forward to the new opportunities. Standing Sushi Bar in Raffles Place is a totally different experience than Standing Sushi Bar at 8QSAM – for both me and the customer. The former is in the fast-paced business district; where diners want to eat fast, eat well, and go. The latter is a destination restaurant, for people to come to unwind, relax, and relish.
I don’t have an opening date yet but I’m aiming for mid to late August. There are many ideas bouncing around in my head and I’d love to hear more from the community – happy hour thoughts, opening promotions, how to get the word out about the new location, etc. Specific blog entries on these coming up soon!
For now it’s back to my dad’s birthday party here in Florida. No sushi in sight but a whole lot of barbecue waiting to be eaten! (Including a complete roast pig).
Credit card promotions at restaurants are rife in Singapore. I never noticed such promotions in the US, but here every restaurant has a tie-up with a bank where users of that bank’s credit card will get some type of benefit – be it a percentage off the bill, free food based on a certain amount you spend, 1 for 1 deals, etc.
Before Standing Sushi Bar even opened, banks were approaching to talk about tie-ups. I wish I had known more about how to deal with them.
Their value proposition is that they will increase awareness of your restaurant by including the restaurant in their collateral – primarily booklets and web sites that list all the venues that have deals with them and what the promotion is.
Since I was a soon-to-open restaurant, I figured that any awareness would be good. UOB is the bank best known for their restaurant tie-ups so when they approached me I signed on – offering discounts and a 1 for 1 omakase promotion to stimulate the dinner crowd.
The 1 for 1 omakase promotion was popular. It helped bring new people to the restaurant that would normally not eat dinner in the Raffles Place area. However a 1 for 1 promotion is hard to stomach, financially.
One of the awareness vehicles that the banks tout is that they will create banners and table tents with the credit card promotion that you’re supposed to place all over the restaurant. They pitch this to you as if it’s a good thing.
To me, a bank / credit card promotion should bring in customers from outside the immediate area. One of the advantages of a restaurant in Raffles Place is that the foot traffic is incredible – people will discover you and try you out regardless of promotions.
So a promotion should convince people that aren’t in the Raffles Place area to venture into the CBD and try out the restaurant. If a customer is already in the restaurant and has come of their own accord, the bank tie-up hasn’t contributed anything but the customer still gets the discount and then the restaurant makes less money without getting the benefit of the increased awareness by the bank promotion.
Tips on dealing with the banks:
- ASK FOR COMPENSATION
As a restaurant owner you’re losing money with every discount that you give. The bank is trying to increase the amount of times a customer will use their credit card (thus putting money into the bank’s pocket) by your restaurant’s promotion.
When negotiating with the bank, they should give you something tangible in return. While there is value in being included with their collateral and advertisements, you need to ask for money, subsidy, or an actual item. For example you could say to the bank, “I will do this 1 for 1 promotion with you if you subsidize the promotion by giving us 2,000 SGD.”
- TIE UP WITH THE BANK THAT PROCESSES YOUR CREDIT CARDS
You may be paying 2.5% of the total bill for every Visa transaction. If you partner with the bank that handles your credit card transactions they may be able to adjust the percentage rate to something lower.
- SET DEADLINES ON THE PROMOTIONS
Open-ended promotions are confusing for everyone. Make it clear when promotions will expire.
- EXAMINE THE BANK’S CUSTOMER DEMOGRAPHICS
Ask for the demographics of the bank’s credit card holders. Are they the right market for your restaurant? If a bank’s credit card is popular with students and you’re targeting professionals, you’re not going to want to promote to that bank’s credit card base.
- MEET WITH A FEW BANKS BEFORE COMMITTING
In the opening weeks, a flood of banks will meet with you and try to sign you to exclusive (i.e. can only sign with them or must give them the best deal) contracts. Make sure you’re getting a good deal from the bank (i.e. what they will subsidize) before committing.
- TARGET YOUR PROMOTION
Wait a couple weeks and see where you think you need help. For example, at the sushi bar we get a healthy lunch crowd – there’s no need for me to run a promotion to increase customers during lunch time. However we get few customers during the late afternoon and happy hour times. So with Standard Chartered I created a promotion that targets the happy hour crowd.
It has been awhile since I’ve written an informative entry on this blog. Straying a bit from my goal of sharing information for others who are interested in starting a small business or taking a step into the food & beverage industry.
I have a few topics lined up. Waiting for some time to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) and write. It’s surprising how taxing the sushi bar and Microsoft both can be. I’m on an airplane now, winging my way to Beijing for a week full of meetings as well as presentations at a customer conference. Perhaps with a little luck I won’t have to go the whole time without sushi and I’ll stumble upon a Japanese restaurant in the Chinese capital.
I think it’s a good sign that even though I literally eat sushi for multiple meals a day, I often still find myself craving it. My own personal “Super Size Me” substituting greasy Mcdonalds for fresh raw fish.
Three months of sushi
Fish and rice play in my mind
All the time, happy
While I’m gone from the sushi bar, we’re implementing some changes to the menu. More sets! More variety! The lunch sets have proven to be popular so we’ll offer additional ones as well as the option to add on some sashimi. That is my goal! For everyone to fall in love with sashimi! Much as Microsoft has touted a PC on every desktop (that was their old vision), I shall make it my mission to put sashimi in every person’s stomach.
We’re also changing the glass boards to feature our specials that come in from Japan a few times a week. Currently our glass board and the printed menu display the same information. Customers have had to ask the chef what the specials were and during the lunch rush it’s hard to communicate. Re-designing the printed menu in conjunction with the glass boards will allow us to constantly display what new items we have. I’m excited about this; I feel people will enjoy seeing so many new types of sea creatures and sushi. It should be fun for the curious and adventurous diners! (One special that we just got… wagyu beef! A thick slice placed on a small bed of sushi rice and then lightly flamed… HEAVEN).
Basically I’m thinking about how to encourage folks to try out new dishes. People are happy and comfortable with salmon (sake), tuna (maguro), eel (unagi), prawn (ebi), and yellowtail (Hamachi), but there is a world of fish out there to explore. I will admit that some are an acquired taste. (Cod fish sperm, anyone? We had it two weeks ago).
Speaking of adventurous dining, my plane is about to land. And if there’s one culture that eats even more variety than the Japanese, it’s probably the Chinese.
It amuses me. Every day I wake up (if I’ve slept) and am amazed that the sushi bar is still open. I wonder if entrepreneurship is supposed to feel like lightly managed chaos. Nudge here, massage there, point the ship in the right direction, and then hold on while it sails through a hurricane.
It is certainly exciting.
The rush to get the store open on August 19 was crazy. The week leading up to it, while I was in Seattle, was one of the most tiring of my life. 8:30 am – 8:00 pm meetings and work dinners for Microsoft and then phone calls about the sushi bar coming in overnight (time zone difference).
I thought once the store opened I would feel tremendous relief. A moment to pause and think, “Wow! The store is for real now!”
That relief lasted for a little less than 30 seconds. And then an exponential increase in stress followed.
It’s probably common for every new business owner to go through this – when I’m in the sushi bar, as I look around, what gets my attention are the operations and processes that can be improved. I gloss over what is going well. “Did we give that person a napkin? How long have they been waiting for their food? Can they understand the menu? Do they know we have a lunch set? Why are we running out of miso soup bowls? Are there enough soy sauce packets for the takeaway? Are we tracking orders properly?” Etc.
A positive customer experience is everything. Some of they key things that make up the customer experience are:
- Quality (freshness of the fish, authentic ingredients, etc.)
- Taste (does the high-quality stuff combine to make a great taste)
- Price (do people consider us expensive? cheap? I’m aiming for good value)
- Service (do they feel welcome at the restaurant? Taken care of?)
Highest priority for me is quality – specifically the quality of the fish and the ingredients we use for the sushi rice. If we can nail the quality, taste will follow automatically – when it comes to sushi you’re getting the flavor of that fresh fish. Sure, our chef Roy has created original sauces that complement the fish very well but at the end of the day it’s all about how fresh that fish is.
I suppose I’ll write this stream-of-consciousness as various memories pop into my mind.
It’s ‘amusing to think about opening day. For reasons I don’t remember, I had decided not to have any printed menu. I thought we’d use the big black glassboards as our menu. So we wrote all the different sushi on the board as well as our cooked food items.
You know what that led to? Utter confusion. Imagine a glassboard just full of text – and not even English text at that. We used a lot of the Japanese names (i.e. maguro for tuna) and it was probably overwhelming for customers to come in and see all those foreign words on the board.
Quick learning – people like pictures and people need a menu to hold and focus on. On that first day it was confusing enough for new customers to stand and eat. I’d watch them stand outside, look at our menuboard, scratch their head, realize there are no seats, and then walk off. I guess I went over the line in how much change a diner can accept.
So I booted up trusty Excel and whipped up a menu and threw some pictures on the back of it explaining what nigiri, gunkan, donburi, etc. are. That helped alleviate a lot of confusion. (Note – these menus are temporary, we’re getting some nicer ones made up as soon as we settle on our regular sushi offerings).
Recommendation: Find a good copy / printing shop and become friends with the owner. A new business is going to be printing out all kinds of things at the start. Flyers, menus, ordering sheets, etc. Sadly throwing a lot of those away as things get tweaked and re-printing becomes necessary.
In our “Web 2.0” (or are we already in 3.0?) world a recent buzz phrase is “social media marketing.” Twitter, Facebook, blogging, user-generated content (reviews, blog entries, Digg likes, etc.) all combine to create an online reputation for any entity, be it a person or business.
I don’t really care about that. But! I do enjoy using aforementioned tools as a way to hear from people as well as share my thoughts and experiences on what is going on.
I’m active on Twitter, have a Facebook fan page, and you’re reading the blog. Also happy that if someone searches for ‘standing sushi bar’ on the internet, the restaurant shows up in the top few links. What’s funny is while I have these interactive web elements going on, the traditional website is neglected. It’s at www.standingsushibar.com but is still under construction; right now it’s pretty much an information dump.
Anyway, when the restaurant opened, I did a Twitter promotion where if someone said they were from Twitter while paying, they would get a 20% discount (that promotion has since ended! But I’m trying to brainstorm some new ones that would be interesting to the Twitter crowd). Surprisingly that got a lot of traction. I didn’t keep count, but there would be at least 5 customers a day that mentioned the promotion… and interestingly some of the people weren’t even Twitter users. They were told by someone on Twitter about the discount though.
I also did a similar promotion telling people to mention the Facebook page, but few customers did. Twitter definitely spread the word more.
What I particularly liked was one Saturday late afternoon when a guy came in and ordered sushi. He was the only customer at that time, so we started chatting. Asked him what he was doing in the Raffles Place area on a weekend – he said he had heard about the restaurant from the internet and while his girlfriend was out shopping on Orchard he thought he’d come and check it out.
That was awesome to hear. A new customer who heard about us on the internet (whether it was blog, Twitter, or Facebook is irrelevant) and thought it interesting enough that they would go to the normally quiet Raffles Place area on a Saturday to eat at the restaurant.
Before I trumpet the success of internet marketing, it pales in comparison to good, old-fashioned, basic tactics. (Note – this is in the context of a standalone restaurant… if you were a major corporation certainly internet marketing is scalable cost-effective way to reach people).
One of the issues I faced was we were throwing a lot of choices at the customer. They would see the glass menu board, see all the different types of sushi we have, and simply feel overwhelmed. So we created lunch sets. I figured for many people they can choose from these 3 sets (instead of creating their own via a la carte ordering) and also save some money as our sets are cheaper than ordering per piece.
Set A: 7 pieces nigiri, some maki, and miso soup (12.80 SGD)
Set B: 3 handrolls and miso soup (9.80 SGD)
Set C: Special donburi and miso soup (11.80 SGD)
(Items in set change on a daily basis depending on chefs’ whims)
(Photo of our lunch set from jiatlormee.blogspot.com)
Customers who came into Standing Sushi Bar would see our lunch sets highlighted on the menu. Definitely our most popular order. It’s affordable, you get variety, and it’s GOOD. (And I’m not just saying that as the owner, haha)
Problem is that most potential customers in that area don’t walk in and take a look at the menu. As they walk by they see the mass of text on the menuboards, the colorful fish, no chairs, and decide that they are not going to give us a try. That makes me sad.
I bought a signboard, wrote the lunch specials on it, and put it in the OUB Centre hallway… so all the customers walking by can see we offer these lunch specials.
Result: We doubled our lunch crowd.
I don’t consider us having started any true marketing campaign yet. We haven’t distributed flyers (aside from opening day – right in front of the shop) and we haven’t looked into paid advertising yet. I’d like to give our operations some time to improve and then I’ll explore how we can reach out to more folks.
Every business boils down to this – does it make money?
In the first week, we didn’t. I thought I had prepared myself for this. Plenty of people told me that it takes months for a restaurant to have a profitable or even break-even day. So I went in thinking, “Ok, let me set my expectations that it will take us time to grow our customer base and we will lose money until then.”
I don’t like losing money. I think you all can relate to that thought.
So as “mentally prepared” as I thought I was… OUCH. Rent. Salary. Fish. Cleaning supplies. Pens for the wait staff. Order sheets. Signboard. Uniforms. Phone bill. Internet bill. Electricity bill. Insurance. Etc., etc. I have never spent so much money in such a short time frame. It makes me think about how I could have run off to a beach in Vietnam and lived the rest of my life out drinking Sai Gon beer and eating pho.
Thankfully things have turned around!
The “losing money” phase was a lot of pressure, and I’d caution anyone in the same situation to avoid making snap decisions or statements based on reaction to dollars being lost. Long-term healthy gain versus short-term scorched-earth profits.
Please help our fortunes grow, standing sushi cat!
I shall save this topic for another day. I’m surprised that the word that comes to mind when I think about competition is – Fun. Of course, if I end up out of business because of competitors, I certainly won’t be using that word again.
As expected, the majority of people eating at the restaurant are Raffles Place professional types. I mentioned in the 8 Days review that during lunch we’re about 80% men (I think cause they don’t have any concerns about standing and eating). Every few days or so the demographic flips and we’re all of a sudden full of women. I have yet to discern the Raffles Place traffic pattern.
This past Monday night we had 10 women eating dinner and only 1 guy!
We’re getting a nice mix of folks. Originally the whole idea was based on fast-paced lunch crowd, but we are getting a lot of people coming in for drinks in the early evening and then selling out all our dinners! I actually find this amazing. For 2 weeks we have had full reservations each night for dinner. (Admittedly we only have 12 chairs… we started with 8 and have bought more chairs because of the popularity of omakase dinner). I really couldn’t believe it when this past Saturday we had a full house. Everything else in Raffles Place is closed on Saturday night except us, so the folks eating there on a Saturday are purposely seeking us out.
One of the cool things about the layout of the restaurant (it looks like a bar), is it seems to encourage people to be more open and chatty. It’s fun to watch different groups of customers start talking with each other, and I have certainly met a lot of people at the restaurant.
My favorite customer feedback has been from folks who have never had sushi (or sashimi) before or haven’t had really fresh sashimi. To their friends, I’d like to say thank you for introducing them to a whole new world of cuisine!!
And speaking of cuisine, it’s Sunday night, I was feeling lazy, and my pizza has just been delivered. So time to eat in front of the television and take a break from sushi bar thoughts.
Oh… and to all of you that have been to Standing Sushi Bar during these first few weeks of operations: Domo arogato!
During opening week it was a pleasant surprise to get various “Congratulations!” bouquets and messages. I’d be standing in the restaurant and all of a sudden flowers would show up. This must be what a girl being wooed feels like.
Bright yellow flowers, roses, trumpet-looking petals, all kinds of floral arrangements! One of the bouquets even had apples.
Earlier this week, one of the most bizarre opening day presents showed up. Courtesy of “Shantika Industries.”
I have to applaud Shan and Tika for their creativity.
Speaking of Shan, here he is at Standing Sushi Bar along with Shane (one of his repeat visits).
The restaurant has been open a week now. After I get some sleep I’d like to write down my thoughts on how it went. Let’s just say I am 3 kg lighter now.
Everyone, eat sushi!
It has been a hectic couple days. I’m about to head to SSB for Day 3 but was just browsing through some of the pictures from our opening day.
Coral and I. She’s been an instrumental part in all of this… from early February when we were watching TV and she asked me, “Whatever happened to your sushi bar idea? Maybe you should look for available spaces again.” Now she’s the manager!
Sakae Sushi is across the hall from us. I chatted with their manager, Doreen, and took her on a tour of Standing Sushi Bar. We have stuff they don’t have, they have stuff we don’t have. We shall do customer exchange and make OUB Centre the new sushi haven!
Rayne is camera shy. I had to snap this one when he turned his head back. He was probably thinking, “As the owner, do you want to take my picture or do you want me to prepare the fish so that we can actually have something for the customers to eat?”
A few of our lovely staff: Nicolette, Taryn, and Charlene. Don’t they just want to make you smile? I have no idea why but every time I say anything to Charlene, she bursts out laughing. Even if it’s along the lines of, “One of you has to play dishwasher for the day since our machine isn’t usable yet.” On a sidenote, Nicolette, Taryn, Roy and Coral have tattoos. This was apparently an unspoken job requirement I was looking for.
Our crew went out to pass out some flyers 30 minutes before opening. This nice young lady got one of the flyers, said she wanted some lunch, and asked if she could eat now. So yes… our first customer was 10 minutes before official opening time. That is a good sign! Thank you Elizabeth for being the first brave soul to eat at Standing Sushi Bar! (though technically I think she got customized take-away so she didn’t eat it there…)
Look at how relaxed people are while they are standing and eating. (on a sidenote, I was looking at the line of people outside Sakae yesterday and thinking to myself that the amount of time they’re standing in line to wait to get a seat, they could be standing and eating already…)
And that, friends and neighbors, was day 1.