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Fishing for new staff

Published on Friday, 14 Sep 2012
David Perry says his staff are more flamboyant than your average Hong Kong worker.
Photo: Jonathan Wong

It is always a good sign when a company’s top management have been with it for a long time and have worked their way up the career ladder. It shows new hires that they have a chance of doing the same thing.

Most of the top managers at US-based Bubba Gump Shrimp have been with the company since it began in 1996. David Perry, general manager of the company’s 6,000 sq ft restaurant in Hong Kong, joined the company in 2001 as one of the opening servers at Bubba Gump Daytona Beach, Florida. “Most general managers have seen the business from the bottom up,” he says.

As Hong Kong is the corporate centre for the company in Asia, there are 15 management-level employees and 25 trainers stationed here, as well as 135 employees. The other eight Asian franchise restaurants send staff here for training. Staff turnover is low, but with the number of employees there are always some vacancies.

Perry hires based on personality, not on education or experience, and looks for people who are flexible and adaptable, dynamic, and thrive on food and entertainment. “Staff are a little more flamboyant and outgoing than your average employee in Hong Kong,” he says.

The motto of the restaurant, which got its name from the film Forrest Gump, is “come as a stranger and leave as a friend”. To achieve that, staff talk to customers to find out what they like and why they are visiting the restaurant, and talk to the guest to make them feel at home.

Potential hires should also want to work their way up. “They should have a desire to become professionally better and actively pursue a career in food and beverage or hospitality,” Perry says.

He adds that language ability is not a decisive factor either. “We have never based our hiring on language. But we have Korean, Japanese, Bahasa Indonesia, Tagalog and Putonghua speakers here, on top of Cantonese and English.”

The restaurant chain’s 10 core principles sum up the favoured behaviour, which supports communication with the guests, the managers and within the team. It also emphasises guest experience, health, safety and sanitation. “Operationally, we like to talk to staff before and after a shift,” Perry says.

The safety and hygiene programme run by the staff on a voluntary basis has earned “a few awards” for the restaurant – it is the staff who make the decisions and implement the solutions.

“The orientation for fresh hires is informative and engaging,” says Perry. “It introduces the company background and philosophy and it is a gateway to the training process.” The training is in stages according to the job experience, categorised in stages of “experience”, “execution” and “coaching”.

Staff often receive incentives that include free concert tickets, trips to Macau and other similar treats. They can also get 70 per cent off a meal consumed with up to three family members or friends.

Staff meals are also provided and the company contributes to transport costs – particularly tram passes, as the restaurant is located on the Peak.

Competitions make work more fun, such as summer drinks contests or Halloween drinks contests, when they sell the same specific drinks in all sister restaurants over the world.

“In Hong Kong, staff are very competitive. That extra incentive goes so much further than in other places. We are currently 200 per cent over last year’s summer drinks sales,” Perry says.


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