How Swee Choon’s Third-Gen Proprietor Digitalises A 58-12 months-Previous Dim Sum Biz

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Swee Choon Tim Sum Restaurant has become a name synonymous with dim sum, and it’s not surprising that long lines are always winding at its Jalan Besar outlet.

The popular dim sum joint was founded in 1962 by Ting Ah Swee and his wife.

The couple later passed the management on to their eldest daughter Joyce Ting and eldest son Tony Ting, who joined the second generation in 1976 as owners.

Tony currently heads Swee Choon as Managing Director and his nephew Ernest Ting, who officially joined the company in February 2020, is now the third generation owner of Swee Choon.

Over the past five decades, Swee Choon has expanded from a one-unit commercial building to six connector stores that can accommodate 420 guests.

Take over his grandfather’s business

Mr. and Mrs. Ting, founders of Swee Choon (left), Restaurant Swee Choon 1983 (right) / Photo credit: Swee Choon Tim Sum Restaurant

When asked why he took over his grandfather’s business, the 29-year-old simply said he always had an interest in F&B.

In addition, the restaurant needed workers. When his uncle asked Tony if he could join the company, he immediately agreed, confident that he could “add value to the business”.

Ernest has a bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance from Exeter University and a postgraduate master’s degree in finance from the London School of Economics.

Despite his financial background, he had always helped Swee Choon during the school holidays or in his free time so that the business was not unknown to him at all.

Although he lacks business experience, Ernest thanked his uncle for helping him.

“He is also open to new, transformative ways to improve the business,” he added.

Innovations to adapt to the times

With F&B one of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic, it is not surprising that Swee Choon sales have declined.

During the breaker period, their profits fell by around 40 percent.

In Phase 2 of the reopening, Swee Choon had to cut its dine-in capacity in half and cut operating hours.

“Our dine-in sales are down 30 percent, and our sales are roughly 10 percent down from last year,” Ernest told Vulcan Post.

The upside, however, is that they saw an increase in delivery sales.

“Our income from the delivery and takeaway of groceries increased from 15 percent (before COVID-19) to 70 percent of our total sales. We believe this dynamic will continue even after COVID-19 is over, ”he added.

Swee Choon Dim SumPhoto credit: Swee Choon Tim Sum Restaurant

To reduce losses from dine-in sales, the restaurant focused on online sales and digital marketing, using additional food delivery platforms to reach more customers.

These efforts have helped Swee Choon’s grocery delivery sales grow significantly, from less than one percent to around 60 percent of its existing average monthly sales during the breaker.

The COVID-19 pandemic has definitely stepped up its digitization efforts. Changes need to be implemented for the company to survive, stressed Ernest.

When COVID-19 hit it was challenging as we had to make sure our operations could handle delivery orders smoothly when dinner wasn’t allowed. We managed to reorganize employees and train them for new roles, and also improved our online ordering mechanism.

During the reopening of Phase 2 for F&B businesses, we faced the challenge of reorganizing our limited seating capacity. We managed to solve the seat and long queue problem by introducing a virtual queuing system that allows customers to reserve a table anytime, anywhere.

– Ernest Ting, third generation owner of Swee Choon

Due to staffing issues, Swee Choon also used QR codes to improve the ordering system so customers can conveniently place orders without having to download an app.

“Almost 90 percent of our guests now use the QR code to order their food,” said Ernest.

In addition, Swee Choon has expanded its dim sum restaurant to include order kiosks. You would like to continue to use an automated system in the future to transport groceries across the shop units without the need for runners.

Minister Chan Chun Sing, who visited Swee Choon three weeks ago, praised the 58-year-old restaurant for embracing digitization and panning online to stay competitive during this challenging time.

“Because of their ability to adapt quickly, Swee Choon’s revenue has now returned to pre-COVID-19 thanks to the income from the grocery delivery business,” Chan said in a Facebook post.

Swee Choon joins the Cloud Kitchen Bandwagon

Swee Choon was slated to open a second store at the Nex Mall in April, but plans for that have since been postponed due to the pandemic.

The central kitchen will develop a new line of frozen dim sum to be sold directly to online consumers instead.

tampines food coPhoto credit: Tampines Food Co.

Last month, the company set up a cloud kitchen at Tampines Food Co that offers both dining and delivery options for customers.

For strangers, a cloud kitchen is an ecosystem of shared kitchens, storage facilities and delivery infrastructures.

With this setup, business owners can lower their overheads and expand their reach to more guests via on-demand delivery services. Customers also benefit from lower shipping costs and shorter waiting times.

tampines food coPhoto credit: Tampines Food Co.

Residents of the region can also order from Swee Choon through apps for the delivery of groceries such as GrabFood, foodpanda and Deliveroo. Previously, those who lived outside of Jalan Besar could only order through Oddle.

In addition to classics à la carte and bento sets / inexpensive dishes, Swee Choon also offers two dishes that are exclusively available in the Tampines outlet: Hong Kong Fried Dim Sum Platter and Hong Kong Steamed Dim Sum Platter.

The best thing about Cloud Kitchen is that it requires a small amount of capital. The idea of ​​the cloud kitchen came about because delivery was very expensive across the island and we wanted to find a way to optimize delivery costs.

From our delivery data history, we were able to map the heavily frequented zones and identify tampines as one of the hot-spot zones. We have therefore decided to go to the cloud kitchen in the east so that we can better serve our customers there.

– Ernest Ting, third generation owner of Swee Choon

Commenting on the grocery delivery landscape, Ernest said that “cloud kitchens could be the next big thing” as he watched many investors pour millions of dollars into these “hub” kitchens.

In Singapore, cloud kitchens seem to be on the rise.

That year, Jollibee opened its first cloud kitchen in Singapore and TiffinLabs – founded by Singaporean billionaire RK Kishin – is expanding to 1,000 cloud kitchens worldwide.

What’s next? A second outlet, maybe a kiosk concept

Swee Choon main streetSwee Choon storefront / Photo credit: Swee Choon Tim Sum Restaurant

When asked about her secret of success, Ernest attributed it to her unique late night opening hours. Before the pandemic, Swee Choon opened from 11:30 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. six days a week.

Although COVID-19 has cut operating hours, they are still open until 1 a.m. (for the Jalan Besar branch).

Swee Choon has become a popular place for late night dinners, especially with the younger crowd. Over the years we have also expanded our menu, first adding Shanghai style dim sum in 2007 and then adding Zi Char dishes in 2012.

This caters to an even wider range of foodies, and their word-of-mouth recommendation has helped Swee Choon become the successful F&B chain it is today.

– Ernest Ting, third generation owner of Swee Choon

He gave his co-entrepreneurs a company council: “You know your target group, you have a strong value proposition and a solid product.”

I think in order to survive in this highly competitive industry we need to plan our business model to adapt to changing times and cultures and therefore invest in a central kitchen and a cloud kitchen.

Of course, the quality and standard of the food should also be maintained, which is why we still insist that our dim sum is made by hand rather than machines.

– Ernest Ting, third generation owner of Swee Choon

His grandfather had always made it a point to use fresh ingredients and handmade dim sum to serve the best Swee Choon dim sum to customers.

He also emphasized the importance of treating those who perform well, as they are the company’s “primary asset”.

Ernest shared future business plans and said Swee Choon is researching different models and concepts.

“Instead of a full-fledged restaurant that is labor-intensive, we are planning new developments that are leaner and more scalable, such as kiosk concepts and small express restaurants.”

Swee Choon will also open a new store in Serangoon in March 2021 and is currently exploring franchise opportunities.

Ernest also shares that he intends to open two more cloud kitchens in Singapore, with plans to open one in the north and one in the west.

Selected image source: Swee Choon

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