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More adventurous than the average bear

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Monday, May 09, 2016

Singapore: A Third World F&B Market

Singapore a 'Third World' F&B market: Chen Fu Ji owner

"Bharati Jagdish: You said there was no customer service. I understand they would yell at their customers.

Koh: Yes, yes. Everyone would be scolded. I only know of one person who was not scolded. That was ex-president Ong Teng Cheong, because they grew up together in the same neighborhood.

The sisters had the understanding that they would be the ones to make decisions. Customers do not make decisions. So if you wanted them to cook dry bee hoon, if it's not on the menu, they have the right to reject you. But if they were in a happier mood, they would do it for you, and they would decide the price. And it could be S$80 for a portion serving three people...

Others will do minced pork tofu, or baby kailan, for example. If we were to do the same, we can only compete on prices. So every dish, we have to do differently. That means my chef has to think about how to be doing it differently. Instead of using oyster sauce, for instance, he has to do something else...

My objective has always been to protect this heritage. That's why I've never withheld the recipe. In fact, I make it very public.

Bharati: Aren't you afraid that someone will replicate it?

Koh: If you read the recipe correctly, it's so tedious that you wouldn’t want to do it yourself; you would come to my restaurant and eat...

If we compare Singapore F&B sector with Hong Kong's, ours is very much a Third World F&B market. You can only realise it when you go to Hong Kong. The F&B outlets there pay a lot higher rent than local outlets, yet can make more profit.

This is because the Hong Kong people, when they go to a restaurant, eat and go. They don't ask for anything else. So they go for the product, and that's why the turnover is very fast. I mean, three families sharing a table is very common, and you just eat and go, eat and go. The productivity per square foot is much higher than in Singapore, and it's all because of culture, I think.

In Singapore, some restaurants have started to give the customers a time limit. Within one hour, you must return the table, and a lot of customers are not prepared to accept that. Whereas in Hong Kong, you don't have to do that and usually the menu is very short. It's Set A, B, C, you order one, and it can be served quickly. You finish in 10 minutes, and you go. So the turnover is very fast, very high...

It is not necessary to be in the business of something you love. You need to be in the business of something that you can win. You have to look into the industry that you want to go into, and the kind of businesses and the competition.

It's better to be in a blue ocean than to be in a red ocean. Blue means less competition. I love innovation and creativity, but you should be cautious, because it's easy to fall in love with the things you want to do. Sometimes they don't make business sense. So you need to be very business-minded.

It’s called a business. It's not merely an interest. Sometimes interest and business are two separate things. My advice to budding entrepreneurs is do something where you can make money, rather than do something that you're only interested in, because there may not be a market and you’ll just go out of business"
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