From breakfast, morning tea break, lunch, afternoon tea break, dinner and another supper late at night, these are the common five meals of the day where Asians indulge themselves in. The people in Asia really live to eat! To cater to ever growing population, the Food & Beverages industry (F&B for short), is scrambling to satisfy even the most gastronomical appetite! Seeing such great demands, many people jump into the F&B business, hoping to make large profits from this food fad. We see restaurants and cafes mushrooming. Some got really successful with full house customers at every meal times, but most we see them closing their shutters quietly after frail attempts of a short struggling business.

The question is, what made some F&B business so successful while some didn’t make it? Here, we get to have a chat with Mr. HENG ZEE SOON, who has been with the F & B industry for over 18 years having open up all kinds of outlets from cafés to Chinese restaurants to specialty eateries from Malaysia to China and now forthcoming author of his own book on the F & B industry in Asia. Mr. Heng hails from a Hainanese Chinese family who runs a successful restaurant business for fifty years. Prior to him taking over the family business, he was the Head of Country Manager based in China for a company with multiple F&B and restaurant brands.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your background in the F&B industry.
A: I was born into a traditional Hainanese family where we run “Kopitiams” in every generation since my grandfather’s time. I grew up helping out in the family-run restaurant. However, I’ve never wanted to work in the F&B industry seeing how hard my family has to work. So I graduated with a Human Resource Management degree and went into HR instead. The amusing thing is, I was recruited into a F&B company as the HR manager in 1995. My experiences with this company lead me to learn everything about being an operational manager to being promoted to the Head of Country Manager in charged of new setups in F&B. I’ve opened up to 30 new outlets under the same company with multiple restaurant branding in the span of 4 years. Seeing how F&B businesses can make profits and now knowing the technical aspects of running a F&B business, my grandfather retired and I took over the reign of the family restaurant business. My partners and I took over a year to upgrade and revamp the whole business model and the restaurant business is now doing even better than before. I now oversee the operations, management and every business areas of the restaurant. I’ve never looked back since and enjoyed my work tremendously being in this F&B industry.

Q: What is the crucial success factor in starting a F&B business?
A: In any successful F&B businesses, the most crucial part is to first have a solid business plan and products. In the F&B industry, it is a business where you must commit to it and be willing to see through it with persistency. This is not one business where you just invest your money and stand aside and watch it grow by itself. There are also many experienced chefs who left the hotel line and started up their own restaurants when investors came in to partner with them. The investors have no experience in the F&B industry while the good chefs may not necessarily have the knowledge to manage and operate a business. These kinds of restaurants may have very good food but with the wrong business plan. If the business plan does not match the food products, it most likely will have a very low success rate. Good food products must come hand in hand with a solid business plan for a successful F&B. To formulate a successful business plan for your food products, one has to know the targeted audience, the theme of the restaurant right down to how and where you’re going to serve your customers. The success of a F&B business does not just rely on good food alone but must come with its business strategy.

Q: What are the three biggest pitfalls in starting an F&B business?
A: The No. 1 pitfall that most F&B business starters make is jumping into the business without knowing their business model and numbers. At any time, a F&B investment is a big investment. Even with a very conservative business model, we are often looking at nothing less than USD40,000. Without the knowledge and plan to handle both the food and business operation areas, we can see many F&B startups getting into trouble within the first six months of their operations. F&B business starters not only must have the food and recipes, they must also know all the numbers that includes everything about the business operations.
The No. 2 pitfall happens to investors who buy and take over existing restaurant business without having a long term plan. Often there are existing restaurants, which have been struggling, and the owners just wanted to cut their loss by selling their business at a low price. Many would consider this a great opportunity to jump right in and become a restaurant owner. However, there need to be a long term plan knowing if they will be using the same menu, business model, same chefs and staff, or else the business will fail just like before.
The No. 3 pitfall occurs to business starters who just want to invest but not manage the business. They just want to hire other people to run it for them. This is one particular business that simply does not work this way. The F&B business is a food and service industry where customers want to have contact with the restaurant owner to build a relationship to improve the quality of the business for long run. Successful restaurants are ones with loyal customers who come back again and again. So people who want to start a F&B business need to put in the heart and soul in order for the business to be successful, or at the least have a partner who will do that.

Q: If I were to go into F&B, what are the key knowledge that I need to know?
A: For anyone who wants to start an F&B business, your key knowledge should cover two areas: Food Production Management and Business Management. Food management refers to setting the menu, the food preparation process and every other matters that go on in the kitchen. Always start small with a menu with a few really outstanding product items. This will allow you better control and focus in keeping the quality of your products. Other than that, learning the Business Management of the restaurants is vital to ensure the whole operation of the restaurant runs smoothly. This includes the finance and accounts, purchasing, the service control and marketing and promotions.

Q: Are there any critical advices to follow to ensure better success for the business?
A: In Asia’s diverse culture, it is important to cater your food products for all major races. Imagine if your products are high in demand just for one race, when you can produce the food for all three races, you will capture a bigger market share, thus increasing the success rate of your business. With Asians’ all-day eating habit, it is also important to devise a business model that caters to providing multiple meals a day, not just only lunch and dinner. With longer running daily business hours, your business will attract a wider customer base, ensuring a good continuous customer flow for your business success.

Q: Any golden words for F&B business starters?
A: Always keep your customers happy and satisfied!


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