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Staff loyalty vital to Crystal Jade's success

This article is more than 12 months old

Disneyland likes to brand itself as one of the "happiest places on earth" so it's no surprise homegrown restaurant chain Crystal Jade is all smiles at being invited to operate eateries in the famous amusement parks.

Those smiles were evident at the firm's recent 25th anniversary celebration at the Michelin-starred Crystal Jade Golden Palace at Paragon.

Disneyland's worldwide invitation was a big recognition for the chain, said Mr Ravi Thakran, chairman and managing partner of L Catterton Asia - formerly known as L Capital Asia -which bought about 90 per cent of Crystal Jade Culinary Concepts Holdings for an estimated US$100 million (S$144 million) in 2014.

Mr Thakran told The Straits Times: "While we're still not very happy with what we've achieved and believe we can do much better there, they've already invited us to the Disneylands in the world."

Crystal Jade has 113 outlets, 106 restaurants and seven kiosks or bakeries across 25 cities. Its first restaurant opened in Cairnhill Hotel in Singapore in 1991.

Standard Chartered Private Equity (SCPE) invested US$52 million in the chain last year.

Mr Thakran and Mr Nainesh Jaisingh, global head of principal finance - the division which houses the SCPE business -at Standard Chartered Bank, noted that the chain's longevity and achievements can be attributed to the key elements of Crystal Jade's business.

Its loyal staff and dedication to ingredients have been the backbone of the firm all these 25 years, they said.

Founder Ip Yiu Tung, 67, who is still advising the group as its brand consultant, told The Straits Times: "We've set a very high standard for the ingredients. Even if they are expensive, we do think it's worth it.

Taste cannot be written down. It has to come to the tongue and they've to remember it.Mr Ip Yiu Tung, Consultant, founder and ex-chairman of Crystal Jade Culinary Concepts Holdings (Crystal Jade)

"The staff, like the cooks, are important too. We hire those with great technique, who also cost a lot, and train them to our standard. At Crystal Jade, the same type of dishes at almost all restaurants taste similar."

Top chefs were hired from Hong Kong in the past, but over the years, Crystal Jade has built its own army by training local staff and giving them a strong career path.

Mr Ip said: "It's our company strategy to 'raise' our own staff.

"We hire them as junior cooks and gradually train them to become seniors. It gives them the opportunity to work longer and fosters loyalty to the company.

"They also remember the taste (of the dishes) this way. Taste cannot be written down. It has to come to the tongue and they've to remember it."

Mr Thakran added that getting the right talent remains an issue for the whole industry.

"Crystal Jade's one advantage over the others is that it is now a brand with considerable reputation, which makes it easier to bring local talent in," he said.

"Crystal Jade being a national brand and now, global brand, does help us recruit talent, which has been very challenging in the industry."

Loyalty is a major factor in the success of the business, and the chain has the figures to show it scores well on this front.

Before it was acquired, staff turnover was 3 per cent in 2013 and 2014. Last year, those who left in the year dropped to 2 per cent. The average turnover rate for food and beverage sector is 4.6 per cent.

Mr Jaisingh said: "In this industry, turnover is typically high. The sense of belonging and emotional ownership that the staff have, I've not seen elsewhere. We have investments in six restaurant chains across Asia and the biggest issue we deal with is staff turnover."

Mr Seah Siang Teck, 52, who looks after the steamed food items in Crystal Jade, has been working for the chain for 25 years and even met his wife there.

He recalled how Mr Ip gave current and former employees bonuses last year after the acquisition, saying: "I enjoyed the work environment all these years and have never left because of it."

In August last year, The Straits Times reported that Mr Ip gave current and former employees payouts of up to $40,000.

Mr Seah added: "Besides learning about food, I've also learnt a lot about service and even how the tables are laid, knowledge which could help if I ever wanted to become an entrepreneur."