Seoul Garden: A Familiar Place Entering A New Phase

Seoul Garden

It has been more than a decade since I stepped into Seoul Garden, and I was blown away by its transformation.

But first, let me bring you back to the past, to what Seoul Garden used to be like.

Bowls of raw food placed on trays of ice cubes, the shiok smell of grilling in the air, friends gathering over yummy food and drinks.

Seoul Garden used to have a circular grill plate with a metal bowl in the middle. The grill was heavy and difficult to carry. The part I really really didn’t like was accidentally spilling soup from the bowl onto the grill, where the hydrophobic oil would then start splattering all over my skin.

Now you know why I stopped visiting Seoul Garden for years.

Then one day, I walked into Seoul Garden NEX outlet and wondered why it looked so different.

The trays of ice cubes were gone.

Now, the bowls of raw food are placed in specially-designed chillers that have a cold metal base and a horizontal layer of cool air (aka an air curtain) to keep the food cool and fresh.

Seoul Garden
Notice there are no more ice cubes. The raw food is placed on a cold metal base with air vents at the top pushing out a horizontal air curtain.

 

Seoul Garden
The chiller even has its own “blinds” that can be pulled down over the food when the restaurant closes.

 

Seoul Garden
A different chiller for steamboat ingredients is also fitted with blinds to cover the food at the end of the workday.

Imagine all the extra time this new chiller saves staff from having to replace the ice cubes, clean the shelves and carry raw food to be placed in a storage fridge. Staff can go home earlier after work!

The grill is now ~300% lighter at 1-2kg (vs 5kg for the old grill).

With an ageing workforce, and because Seoul Garden had also begun hiring people with partial disabilities, the company looked for ways to make their jobs easier.

Replacing the heavy grill was one huge burden, so Seoul Garden decided to repurpose the tables with lighter grills.

Seoul Garden
Seoul Garden also separated the steamboat bowl from the grill so each table now can have 2 different steamboat soups instead of one. No more nasty splatters from hot oil!

The non-stick grills are part of a Smokeless Grill System, which is easier to maintain as there is less grease and cleaning required. The non-stick grills are easier to wash and don’t need to be replaced as often.

Diners can also adjust the temperature individually for each of the steamboat bowls and the grill.

I heard these improvements may also be rolled out to some of the other Seoul Garden outlets.

Why did Seoul Garden go to this extent of repurposing their equipment?

Seoul Garden has a staff strength of around 200 employees.

With an ageing workforce, many kitchen and service staff may not be as physically strong as they used to be.

Seoul Garden also hires around 20 staff with partial disabilities such as autism.

With a diverse workforce, the company continually looked for ways to improve difficulties that staff faced, so they would have easier and safer jobs.

This would free up staff to have more time and energy to focus on what matters, be it the customer service or improving the kitchen processes and food offerings.

Seoul Garden
Seoul Garden has expanded its food offering to include a variety of shellfish and even sashimi.

 

Seoul Garden
New products to cater to customer preferences include the Sugar-Free Infused Detox Drink for a healthier choice.

Seoul Garden worked with e2i (Employment & Employability Institute) to roll out the new chillers and Smokeless Grill System under the WorkPro Job Redesign initiative.

One of the best things I learnt about this initiative was that over 10 workers who were impacted by these changes at NEX received a wage increment and also some incentive bonus on top of their monthly pay.

What career and training opportunities does Seoul Garden offer?

Seoul Garden partnered e2i to hire several staff through Place-and-Train programmes where each staff got to experience a 6-month compressed training programme.

After they graduated, they got a salary increase and continued their career progression (or converted to another track if they wished to).

Some staff who have completed the Place-and-Train programme who have been placed as Duty or Operations Managers subsequently rose to Assistant Restaurant Managers and even General Manager!

Seoul Garden also opened a new department which currently hires five “Facilitators and Assessors” to help staff with partial disabilities ease into their jobs, be more independent and adaptable, and improve the culture of inclusion among the entire workforce.

Staff with partial disabilities are trained to work both in the kitchen and service line. Seoul Garden does not give them badges nor label them as staff with partial disabilities. The company also pays staff with partial disabilities equal wages as other staff.

Read our interviews with various Seoul Garden staff and visit Seoul Garden at NEX to get to know them in person.

Seoul Garden
Seoul Garden NEX staff having a quick briefing before their 36th anniversary celebrations. This outlet has a family culture where staff look out for each other and work together to serve customers.

If you are looking to support a restaurant which promotes inclusive hiring, better jobs and pay for staff, you can consider checking out Seoul Garden at NEX.

Special thanks to Seoul Garden and e2i for arranging the interviews.

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What do you want to tell others? Find me at jules <at> workersofsingapore (dot) com