Out of service

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Out of service


There is a Chinese restaurant I like to visit in Myeong-dong, central Seoul, especially on a chilly day. It specializes in Chinese hot pot. It is a branch of a Chinese hot pot franchise from Sichuan. It not only serves good food but also offers outstanding service. Some call the unexpectedly excellent service “China’s mistake,” sarcastically.

First, the reception is systematic and staff have specific duties such as welcoming, table service and serving. One or two hosts are always at the entrance, checking reservations and guiding guests to tables. In Korea, only fine dining establishments offer such services, but the hot pot place is a mid-range restaurant where you can dine for 20,000 won ($19) to 30,000 won per person.

When you sit, you are give a hot towel. Each table has a designated server, and you don’t have to call them because they are always nearby. You can order on a tablet, which sends the order straight to the kitchen. When you put a phone or glasses on the table, you are offered a clear zipper bag so that food doesn’t splash on them. When you try to keep your hair tidy, you are offered a hair tie. When you least expect it, you are offered service beyond expectation. You put your coat over the chair, and the server puts a cover on it. You can also enjoy free nail care after the meal. Those dining alone can have the company of a big teddy bear.

Chairman Zhang Yong, a former welder, founded the company in 1994, and from the beginning, the focus was on staff training and service. Harvard Business Review did a case study in 2011 and rated that it accomplished innovation through customer service. Managers are evaluated based on customer satisfaction, not sales revenue. But the revenue is also growing with good service. The staff are not paid much at first, but highly rated employees get rewarded quickly and handsomely. Anyone can become a manager if capable. The CEO started as a server. Last year, an undercover media report revealed unsanitary conditions at a restaurant in Beijing and the sales plummeted. But it overcame the crisis by acknowledging the fault after seven hours and announcing seven corrective measures.

Now, many Korean families have one or two Chinese robot vacuums. Unexpectedly high-quality “China’s mistakes” are shifting to more refined electronics such as drones, audio products and earphones. China is moving from the manufacturing sector to the service industry, which Korea thinks it is better at than China. China’s service industry has grown to employ 43 percent of workers, as service-related start-ups in the sharing economy and fintech are increasing. The Chinese government announced a plan to accomplish economic development and add jobs through the service industry. I am anxious that Korea may fall behind China in service as well.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 4, Page 30

*The author is a deputy editor of JoongAng Sunday.

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