The Workers of Seoul Garden

Seoul Garden

You may know Seoul Garden for their yummy Korean BBQ and a great place to chill with friends. How well do you know the staff at your favourite outlet?

I had the opportunity to chat with some of the staff at Seoul Garden’s NEX outlet and would like to introduce you to the kind people who make our meals more meaningful.

The GM who made a mid-career switch

Our host was Seoul Garden’s General Manager Garry Lam, who was himself Placed-and-Trained in the company by e2i (Employment & Employability Institute).

Seoul Garden
Garry (centre) with several staff members at Seoul Garden NEX outlet. (Source: Seoul Garden)

Garry had been working abroad for more than 20 years in places such as Hong Kong, Shanghai, Manila, Chongqing, Adelaide, Sydney, Beijing, Zhuhai, Taipei mainly in the service industry.

However, when he returned to Singapore, he realised there was a prevalence of ageism that prevented experienced mature workers from securing jobs. Thankfully via e2i, he secured a job with Seoul Garden in September 2017.

Seoul Garden
Garry started off as a trainee, undergoing all sections training which included kitchen food preparation, cooking and serving customers. This enabled him to understand the challenges his team members faced. (Source: Seoul Garden)

During his Place-and-Train stint, Garry went through a 6-months compressed training programme which equipped him with the necessary skillsets for his role.

After he completed his training, he was promoted to Operations Manager, then Head of Operations, and now the General Manager of Seoul Garden Group.

Placing people into jobs is just the beginning

Seoul Garden
Garry (in black shirt) says Seoul Garden Group emphasises a lot on People Development, regardless of ethnic group, age, academic background etc. (Source: Seoul Garden)

In Seoul Garden, many staff have been sponsored by the company for continuous lifelong learning courses as well as professional tertiary courses.

Seoul Garden
Louis Lee was Placed-and-Trained by e2i in Seoul Garden in 2017 as a trainee manager. After a 6-month training programme, he was promoted to a manager. He likes how Seoul Garden has a family culture, work life balance, and staff have opportunities to interact with customers. He hopes to become an area manager in future.

Garry says, “We are even flexible enough to allow team members to go for classes and adjust the working hours to suit their schedule. I strongly urge that our education system will include Restaurant Management as a professional sector for higher academic learning.”.

Seoul Garden
Muhammad Fadzil Bin Fadzilah (centre in red shirt) was scouted by Garry to join Seoul Garden as a duty manager. After undergoing the 6-months training programme, he was promoted to Assistant Restaurant Manager. He shared, “I initially thought I can cook, because I cook at home often, but I learnt there is a standard to cooking and presentation of food in F&B.”.


Seoul Garden
Fadzil enjoyed learning a lot of skills, from table setting, clearing, presentation and cooking, and being able to have open conversations with management. However, he also said, “People think of F&B as a dirty and messy job. But I think it is totally different when you get into it. I learnt during a hygiene course when the workflow is planned with the hygiene factor in mind, the environment will be hygienic too.”

Being an inclusive employer

Out of Seoul Garden’s 200 staff, around 20 staff have partial disabilities. They are paid equally as other staff and given training and career opportunities. Seoul Garden also hired a team of dedicated staff to help them integrate at work, coach them on the job and bring up their confidence.

Seoul Garden
At Seoul Garden, workers with partial disabilities get paid equal wages as their colleagues in similar roles. (Source: Seoul Garden)

“We also welcome matured workers and even partial disabilities such as autism, hearing impaired, etc. We have a team of dedicated Coaching Facilitators & Assessors, who are patient and really focused in helping this group of members to be more independent and able to adapt to a high customer service demand environment,” says Garry.

Seoul Garden
Shirley Lim has been with Seoul Garden since 2014, working her way up from a kitchen assistant, to a trainee, waitress, senior waitress and then kitchen assistant and cashier. I could feel her pride in looking after the premium counter (which features sashimi and premium seafood) and carrying out her duties well.

Seoul Garden constantly looks at how to improve the workplace to help mature workers and workers with partial disabilities cope with job duties.

“With constant R&D of equipment, such as e2i’s WorkPro programme on our buffet counter, Gen 9 smokeless roaster, as well as non-stick grill plate, it has helped the matured workers and workers with partial disabilities to be more productive, and it’s a lot safer for them to work,” says Garry.

Seoul Garden
Kuan Chu Xiang (affectionately known to colleagues as Ah Xiang) has been working at Seoul Garden for 5 months after he was placed in his job by his school. As a service assistant, he helps customers clear their empty plates and serve their requests. His hardworking attitude, punctuality and willingness to learn have enabled him to adjust well to the fast-paced F&B environment. The lighter grills are also easier for him to carry and change.

Evelyn Chua found a job with Seoul Garden after seeing an advertisement at its Bedok branch. She started working a year ago as a part-time staff and was subsequently promoted to Service Assistant.

Seoul Garden
Evelyn (right) received a certificate of achievement from Mr Chee Hong Tat (Senior Minister of State) and Mr Andrew Lee (CEO of Seoul Garden) for her contribution. (Source: Seoul Garden)

When Seoul Garden implemented the new chiller and buffet system, and changed to a Smokeless Grill System, Evelyn’s job was redesigned to be easier and safer. She also received a wage increment.

Read more on how Seoul Garden transformed the workplace to be easier and safer for staff.

Seoul Garden
As Evelyn (wearing a cap) looks after her elderly mum, she is appreciative that she can approach her manager to arrange her schedule so that her off days coincide with her mum’s medical appointments. (Source: Seoul Garden)

Evelyn appreciates customers who are more understanding towards service staff like herself, and treat service staff like friends. She remembers fondly a nice customer who told her “I appreciate your help” as she helped the customer take some items while the customer was busy with her baby.

However, there are days that she faces “challenges” that are not ideally pleasant. Demands and requests can get a little overwhelming at times. Hence even when Seoul Garden tries to be more inclusive as an employer, customers also play an important part in understanding and appreciating workers with different abilities.

Garry shared enthusiastically how Seoul Garden will continue to work closely with e2i in upcoming career fairs and explore how both parties can help mature jobseekers who are willing to explore career opportunities with Seoul Garden Group.

Seoul Garden will also be exploring partnerships with SG Enable to help some of the partially-disabled team members adapt and learn new skills.

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

About Author

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