What do a Mexican fast food chain, a bar, and a vegetarian diner have in common? They all need staff, good ones especially. But attracting staff is a perpetual challenge. At the recent panel discussion hosted by iChef and Talenox, we invited the bosses behind three successful F&B brands in Singapore to share their secrets on staffing.
The Part-timer Maestro
Photo: iChef; Guzman Y Gomez
Josh Bell brought over the Guzman Y Gomez (GYG) franchise from Australia three years ago to introduce wholesome Mexican takeaway to Singapore. The business took root in the busy CBD with a couple of expansions shortly after. If you get the chance to queue for a burrito during lunch on a weekday at Asia Square, a few things should catch your attention. The queue will be long — but it also moves quickly— and there’ll be just as many people standing in front of the counter as there are behind it.
GYG employs a huge part-time workforce of students who are required to take turns learning all operational roles in each outlet. Everyone needs to be consistent when preparing each item on the menu, and nobody is excused from clean-up duties, not even the boss. Day 1 on the job is identical to day 90 — anybody not onboard with the program is welcome to leave. With payout at ten dollars an hour, there’s certainly no shortage of applicants.
Instead of fussing over weekly rostering, an online application allows staff to book work shifts of their choice. To be on the safe side, some overstaffing is allowed, but ad hoc changes in shifts and replacements are all magically taken care of by the system. Flexibility clearly appeals to students, and the success of this system hinges on a smart rostering system that saves hours on planning. Look no further if you need expert advice on managing part-timers.
Dean at Spiffy University
Photo: iChef; Spiffy Dapper
The Spiffy Dapper started as a hole-in-the-wall serving cocktails, building a reputation of tough love under the guidance of George C Abishek. In stark contrast to Josh’s policy of hiring “anybody with a heartbeat”, George has, on the establishment’s careers page, told people not to bother applying. When somebody with enough gumption finally shows up at the bar asking for work, they immediately learn that printing a resume was a waste of paper and that the lucky ones get thrown under the bus right away.
Everybody starts out as a bartender, working evening shifts and several solo weekends in the first two months. This trial by fire forces staff to be independent learners, and helps weed out those who are averse to hardship in the process. The ones who persist are introduced to Spiffy University — a program that rewards staff for learning new skills and contributing to the business. Courses (designed in-house) cover mixology and coffee-making, ranging from junior to senior proficiency levels. Each rank earns a fixed pay increment in addition to starting salaries. Simply put, you get to design your own pay scale.
Turns out it’s the millennials that appreciate the career opportunities at Spiffy, along with any sarcasm George dishes out. Many are in their twenties but aren’t there to just kill time. George opined that millennials tend to steer away from conventional career choices (F&B isn’t exactly the first choice their parents have in mind) and continuously seek purpose in what they do. So, he creates purpose by offering stock options to leaders. Talent with management potential are invited to become business leads for Spiffy’s growing range of outlets and brands. George reinforced that “after trying various incentive schemes, equity seems to be the best approach to instilling a genuine sense of ownership”. Yes, it certainly makes one think harder about the longer term prospects of the businesses.
The Auntie Whisperer
GreenDot, as the name suggests, is on a mission to promote a vegetarian lifestyle in Singapore. Co-founder Justin Chou doesn’t believe in guilt-tripping tactics to get more people to forgo meat. Instead, he told us, that the food is made with love — and his employees believe it too. Their workforce strikes a balance between staff below 30 and more mature staff above 40 — or “aunties” as we address them colloquially. This balance, said Justin, fosters a familial culture of care for one another, as well as towards patrons.
Justin believes “there is no such thing as a bad worker, only a bad fit for the person.” With that in mind, he handpicks the roles for staff, with aunties in charge of cooking and greeting customers, while younger staff serve and man the cash register. As with GYG, everybody takes turns to clean up. The biggest secret Justin let out of the bag was how to attract aunties and keep them happy. His advice was “don’t talk about money during the interview, just assure them you will do your best to help them be happy at work”, especially if it means offering more flexible working hours for them to spend with their families. In addition, accolades are awarded twice a year to staff for good performance.
GreenDot recently introduced an entrepreneurship development program to attract youths and graduates looking for career progression that is otherwise uncertain in the F&B trade. Candidates start with service duties at the outlet then systematically cover all roles at the store over two years. Thereafter they can progress to executive roles to support the business in supporting functions or choose to become store managers. If this program progresses well, we may be looking at an effective method of attracting young talent to F&B careers.