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Internally nurtured, never poached

Published on Thursday, 12 Apr 2012
Dining Concepts managing director Sandeep Sekhri (centre, in business suit), with Al Molo staff – some of whom received US training.
Photo: Berton Chang

While many firms are worried about anaemic business this year and are consolidating staff, the city’s hotel and restaurant sector is booming, offering fresh opportunities and excellent career prospects.

After the successful opening of an Italian restaurant with American celebrity chef Mario Batali, restaurant group Dining Concepts (Hong Kong) is expanding again and  hiring a large number of people to staff  three new restaurants.

“I have openings in June, July and November – a total of four openings this year,” says Dining Concepts managing director Sandeep Sekhri. “I’m looking for close to 200 staff.”

He adds that with about 550 people in the company, the group’s 5 per cent attrition rate – already one of the lowest in the industry – means that he is constantly on the lookout for 25 to 30 people.

“Hiring is a constant process – hiring, training, retaining. It is a challenge. In the past 18 months, human resources have been the biggest challenge,” Sekhri says.

With the number of his restaurants going up from 18 to 22 this year, Sekhri is going to increase his workforce by another 40 to 50 per cent, and those people all have to be assimilated into the company almost at once.

A steakhouse opening in June will need a team of 50 to 60 people. Another BLT Burger branch, opening in Times Square in July, will require  30 to 35 people, while an  Italian restaurant opening in November – also in Causeway Bay – will need 70 to 80 people.

Recruitment for key posts starts about two months ahead of opening, compared with six weeks for positions such as manager, supervisor, receptionists, cooks, waiters and waitresses.  Sekhri says they can offer exciting career prospects and training opportunities. 

“We like to promote people internally. We like to grow and nurture people and let them grow. It gives me huge satisfaction to see someone start as a waiter and now handle several restaurants,” Sekhri says, adding that for the group’s latest opening, 30 to 40 per cent of the positions were filled through internal promotions.

“We don’t poach people. We hire people who are leaving or are already available to us,” he adds, referring to the practice of some competitors who leave name cards with capable staff to entice them to leave.

Training relates to food and wine, the point-of-sales system, and standard operating procedures. High performers who are promoted might even have the opportunity to train in the United States, as it happened before the opening of Al Molo at Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui, and Batali’s restaurant.

“We send staff overseas for training. For the opening of BLT Burger, a few people will go to Las Vegas and train there,” confirms Sekhri. “Several of my staff have trained in Las Vegas and were very impressed by the standards of operations.”

Sekhri also wants his staff to feel that the company is like a family that is always there for them when they need it.

“You have to make people feel important in what they are doing, they have to be treated with respect and they have to be motivated. When you handle people, you handle emotions, not machines. And don’t give them jobs, give them careers,” he says.

The company also has an incentive programme of equity participation and profit share for senior management. It also shares a certain percentage of the profit with staff every quarter.
Sekhri, who came to Hong Kong 21 years ago and started his own business in 2001  with Bombay Dreams, says he is not worried about an economic downturn.

He has witnessed several downturns in Hong Kong, and the city always rebounded much faster than any other place. He also trusts the “huge support from China”.

“There is reason to be cautious – but not pessimistic. You can’t be too extravagant when you run a business, but I’m not doing this for one year. It’s for the long term.” 


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