Posts filed under ‘General’
Dear lovely followers of this blog. We are moving! After two years of utilizing the wordpress.com hosting services, I’ve decided to move the blog to our own domain. Please update your links and feeds to our new blog located at http://www.standingsushibar.com/blog.
Thank you for staying with us! The sushi adventure continues and is on the cusp of getting a lot bigger.
Let me start by saying that what happened / is happening in Japan is a tragedy. The impact outside of Japan is never going to compare what the people are going through there. We all understand that and hopefully are helping in any way that we can.
This entry is about how what’s happening in Japan has affected my local Singapore restaurant.
Customers are worried about food from Japan. There is a fear that food has been exposed to the radiation that is leaking from the Fukushima reactors. Regardless whether a restaurant is actually getting its food from Japan, the “mass” are lumping anything associated with Japanese food as potentially dangerous.
Our sales have dropped by half. From what I’ve heard, many Japanese restaurants are experiencing the same. Despite daily checks by the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore and the minimized usage of food from Japan, people are still scared. I can kind of understand it.
These are some of the thoughts I’ve had the past week:
- Food supply. We used to get a lot of our fish and ingredients from Japan. Now we’re faced with a situation where people don’t want to eat food from Japan. Do I immediately stop serving food from there? Even though it’s still deemed safe?
- What I’ve decided – I was very worried about screwing over our suppliers who are providing food from Japan; we’ve been buying things from them for over a year and I’m sure they’re just as worried as I am about the situation. However this is a business and I can’t keep buying ingredients that no one will want to eat. Instead, we contacted the suppliers to see what foodstuffs they had on hand which originated before the quake. For the items that we could stockpile (i.e. freeze and keep), we bought as much as possible. It’s a small gesture but hopefully it helps the suppliers have a little breathing room as they figure out what to do next.
- For everything we can’t stockpile, we have switched to non-Japan items.
- Communication – I feel weird about broadcasting “No food from Japan served here!” I feel that’s simply feeding the irrational fear which is preventing people from eating at Japanese restaurants. At the same time, I recognize that however irrational a fear may be, if a large amount of the population is feeling it, I better address it. This blog entry is kind of an attempt at that. A weak one, admittedly.
- Former staff – Kawa-san and some close friends of mine that have helped with the sushi bar are living in Japan. We (here in S’pore) were all worried about how they were coping. It was also interesting and really nice to see customers ask us about how they were doing.
- Fundraising for Japan – I’m thinking of how SSB can do more. I think it’s so, so, so good of restaurants such as Inagiku, Kuriya, and others pledging to donate part of their sales towards helping Japan. I wish I could do the same with SSB but fact-of-the-matter is we’re just not in a financial position where we can do it. I am brainstorming if we can do a special event to help raise money rather than a straight percentage of sales. That might be more feasible. In the meanwhile we have collection tins from the Japanese Association (which will be donated to the Red Cross) at each of our outlets. FYI here is a list of organizations that one can contribute to towards helping Japan.
- Staffing – Finally last month we hired enough people to be at full strength for each restaurant. Yet now the restaurants are much less busy. I guess this is a good time for a lot of the staff to finally take some days off – when we were short-handed many of them were working crazy hours.
- Future – The tragedy in Japan is going to have long-term impact. Supplier prices are going to go up, the amount of customers dining may drop, and who knows what other news might come out of Japan.
During this trip away, there was a lot of time to think about what could be done to improve the sushi bar. 40 hours of sitting still on an airplane forces the brain to wander.
Quick list of what I will be working on:
- Loyalty cards – this has always been on the “to-do” list, but I originally wanted to do something much greater. Some type of loyalty program that analyzes what each customer is ordering and personalizes the benefits that they would get from repeated visits. Alas this would have involved a complicated computer system so it will have to go on the back burner for now. Instead I should just do a straightforward card with rewards every few steps of the way.
- Set Menus – When I spoke at Barcamp.sg last year, one of the points I made was that customers are “lazy.” (I say this with love!) They get overwhelmed with the number of choices on the menu. What I plan to do is create multi-course set menus that are separate from our main menu listing. Hopefully that eases the burden of choice.
- Search Engine Optimization – Well, I’ve been working on this already. If you type in “sushi singapore” or “singapore sushi” we show up on the first page in Google. Only the second page on Bing (come on Microsoft!!). This is important as it’s one of the top ways people will discover the restaurant.
- Deeper cost analysis – I need to get a more accurate view of how much each item we sell costs. Everything is fluctuating and with the crisis in Japan I’m sure our suppliers will be increasing their prices. With deeper analysis I can see which items I can absorb the increase on and which ones will unfortunately have to be increased.
- Marketing – Ultimately I need to get people into the restaurants. I feel we have a good base of regulars but I need to figure out how to reach all the folks in Singapore that haven’t tried us out yet. I do not believe the group-purchasing deals are the solution.
- I also need to get over this jet lag and sleep properly.
It has been awhile since I’ve updated. Travels to Taiwan, Japan, the US, and elsewhere have left me feeling loopy and while I wish I was one of those people that can be productive on the road, I’m the type to watch movies for the whole flight.
The sushi bar is going through exciting times. More about that later. I wanted to do a “status report” for myself. Currently in my main corporate job, we’re going through the annual review process. Since Standing Sushi Bar has been open since August 19, I thought it’d be fitting to review what has happened.
I don’t think I made a list of goals (at least not on paper) when the restaurant first opened, so these are just areas I’m thinking about at the moment.
My idea was to create a sushi bar where the diners and the chefs get to know each other. This would lead to personalized sushi (i.e. the chef knows if you prefer less rice, enjoy a certain fish, etc.) and an opportunity for the diner to learn about new types of sushi based on recommendations from the chef or staff.
For the folks that dine regularly and speak with Roy, the interaction and experience is great. We could do a better job at connecting with the first-time customers and the lunch crowd. The latter is difficult because it’s fast-paced and noisy but there are certainly opportunities.
Food Quality / Reputation
Sushi is a mainstream, popular dish in Singapore. However the quality range is limited. You either get the conveyor belt sushi which is priced cheap or for consistently high quality you have to pay a bomb at the top restaurants. I felt there was opportunity to offer the high-quality sushi at prices closer to those of the conveyor belt sushi chains – making up the cost difference with the volume of Raffles Place.
In the F&B industry there’s a notion that goes, “If only 1 out of 10 customers complain, you’re doing a fantastic job.” Thank goodness our complaints are less than that since I have a meltdown when I receive one. I put on my Sherlock Holmes cap and start grilling the team about what may have happened. Handling complaints in that manner isn’t productive.
I’m glad that our compliments far outnumber complaints. I’m also happy that the food reviews (8 Days, New Paper, My Paper, etc.) were positive. I also think the community votes for Top 10 Sushi and Top 10 Sashimi on Hungrygowhere are also a testament to Standing Sushi Bar’s quality.
I wanted a casual, friendly, welcoming place – and the service team play a big part of that. This might sound like one of the most-obvious statements ever but guess what, good service is hard!
There are two issues. One – we’re frequently understaffed. I think there was one week when we were at full strength. Ah, what glorious short-lived relief. The bigger issue is #2 – minimal training program. I think the folks working at Standing Sushi Bar are great, but basically I’ve been relying on their initiative and thinking to handle service issues. That’s generally fine but providing training and coaching would make our service even better. Further training on the menu items, specific points of service, etc.
Outreach / Marketing / Awareness
Basically – has the target customer base heard about Standing Sushi Bar and do they think about the restaurant in a positive way?
I’ve done what I’m comfortable with and enjoy – using the internet. We’ve got our Facebook fan page, Twitter account, website, and this blog. That has definitely resulted in general awareness about the restaurant and has been a great channel for feedback and interaction.
But is it really hitting the eyeballs of the target customer base? Remember – Standing Sushi Bar sits in the heart of Raffles Place. Our bread and butter diner is the PMEB working in the nearby vicinity (within 2 square blocks), of which a good amount are lawyers and finance industry types. Many of whom are barred from using social networking websites in their office.
There’s definitely room for improvement. Flyer distribution, targeted promotions, partnerships with other commercial entities that hit the right customer base… those are a few things I can think of off the top of my head.
The jet lag is kicking in now and my head is going foggy, so that’s all for today! Anyone have suggestions on other categories to review the restaurant on?