We opened some doors

A few more months have flown by and it's brought a raft of openings for us! For our Japanese-influenced salad bar, Shinkansen, we opened in two more locations: United Square in Novena and 100 AM mall in Tanjong Pagar. Since Shinkansen is a new concept for us, I felt that the faster we could put it in front of people, the quicker we would gain market recognition. The salad and healthy food area is a tough battleground though! I need to be clearer with what Shinkansen offers (create-your-own salad, rice, quinoa, or soba bowls using a mixture of Japanese and Western ingredients).

Japanese salad bar Shinkansen at 100 AM in Singapore's Tanjong Pagar. Additional locations in Raffles Place and Novena.

On October 13 we also opened another branch of Standing Sushi Bar. It's located at Income @ Raffles, which is the building formerly known as Hitachi Tower. I suppose one could view it as a return to Raffles Place as the first branch of Standing Sushi Bar was at One Raffles Place (formerly known as OUB Centre... I guess with all the development there's lots of 'formerly known' places). The new SSB is located at:

16 Collyer Quay
02-02 Income at Raffles
Singapore 049318

It's the first time I've used a designer for Standing Sushi Bar, and it definitely looks better than the other branches. I suppose my background in information technology and Microsoft Excel didn't translate into gorgeous restaurants! So it's definitely great that Wynk Collaborative applied their design chops to SSB. (See their site for more photos of the new Standing Sushi Bar).

Standing Sushi Bar at Income at Raffles. Located right by Raffles Place MRT.

Now that these places have opened, it's time to buckle down and commence the real work! We need to make sure that people are aware we exist and when they come that they will have a delicious and positive experience. For the latest Standing Sushi Bar, we're making it more of an izakaya and bar at night with a few Japanese cocktails, a good selection of sake, shochu, and umeshu, and also Japanese craft beer and $5 Asahi to wet your whistle. Food-wise we have a big menu of $5 bites at night and also will be introducing an awesome omakase soon.

I'll have to dedicate a different entry for the new Standing Sushi Bar!

Checking in

Knock knock, anyone home? I can't believe we are halfway into 2014. The blog has collected a bit of dust; it's always on my mind to jot a few things down here and there, but it gets bumped down the list of things to do when various urgent things pop up.

2014 has been a pretty exciting time for me and the business. Getting Shinkansen established, the opening of The Secret Mermaid, distribution of spirits with Liberty Spirits Asia, tinkering with Standing Sushi Bar, and working on a refresh of Tanuki Raw has been good. With a few years of F&B under my belt and many lessons learned it's about time that I apply them. The next three months will bring 2 new branches of Shinkansen (well, actually in the next two weeks) and 1 branch of Standing Sushi Bar. Some spaces opened up that seemed ripe with opportunity, so I decided to go for it. 

Part of me thinks we're being a little aggressive with expanding, but I feel Singapore is one of those places where you almost have to expand or die. If you only have a few branches your business is at the mercy of your lease. The restaurants might be doing well but if you're unable to renew your leases then poof... your business is gone.

Of course the big issue that F&B operators grapple with (and probably true across the service and retail industry) is staffing. As we expand we need more staff, but it's desperately hard to find local staff. Would you commit to new spots without having any idea how you're going to staff it? (I do, but whether that's a good thing is debatable).

I think it's worth spending more time looking outside of Singapore. There are a few interesting opportunities in Malaysia and Indonesia. It's been exciting getting on planes to go see what's happening over there. Even if nothing pans out, it's fun to brainstorm and think about what one can do in different cities.

Anyway, a new branch of Shinkansen opens tomorrow at United Square in Novena!

Shinkansen - Lunch on the fast track!

Hunkered down the past few months working on the newest addition to the Standing Sushi Bar family. Very happy that we have (finally) opened at Ocean Financial Centre.  The restaurant is called Shinkansen and it is a sushi, sashimi, rice, salad, and noodle bowl place that lets you order one of our specials or customize your own bowl.  Pick from over 35 ingredients to put on top of sushi rice, brown rice, mixed greens, or soba noodles and you have a delicious healthy meal!

SHIN-logofinal-lowres.jpg

Shinkansen is located at the heart of Raffles Place, right by Raffles Place MRT.  It's inside the Ocean Financial Centre building at level B1.

Stay tuned for what we are transforming the place into at night!

Merry Christmas!

From all of us at Standing Sushi Bar, we wish you a Merry Christmas and a very happy holiday season!

Life is always hectic and full of activity, so during this season it's important to carve out a little time to relax and bathe in the happiness of others.

Our team at Standing Sushi Bar Marina Bay Link Mall celebrating over food!

Shock & Awe in America: A tipless restaurant in America

Outside of the United States of America, there isn't much of a tipping culture.  In the US though, it's expectation at a restaurant that you tip your server 18% - 20% of your bill.

Jay Porter, owner of The Linkery restaurant in San Diego, challenged that notion and switched from a tipping policy to one of a service charge - every bill automatically had an 18% service charge added to it (in Singapore it's a 10% service charge). 

He wrote a series of columns explaining his reasoning for doing so and what some of the ramifications were.   Unfortunately The Linkery has recently closed so I'll never get to try it, but it's interesting to see how many of the negative reviews on Yelp were based on having the service charge added.

Jay brought up the point that customers wanted to be able to control the tip because they felt they had power over the servers - they could use the tip to reward or punish the server based on their perception of the service provided.  What other job puts the employee in a position like that? 

Staffing a new office

This is turning into a familiar occurrence; seems like the only time that I sit down and update the blog is when I’m in transit.  Currently en route from London to New York City.  After the 12.5 hour flight from Singapore to London, I feel pretty wiped out.  9 more hours to get to New York. I can’t wait to get into bed. Got a room via Airbnb.com, and since my past two experiences with them were pretty good I’m confident it will be a pleasant setup.

From August 2009 until April this year, I’ve been running the Standing Sushi Bar “office” as a one man show.  I use office liberally as it was a home office and intermixed along all the papers and statements were my three cats tearing through it all.  With the growth of the restaurants it wasn’t feasible to keep running things from home, so I got a small space at GSM Building.  I’m glad I spent slightly more for a room with a window.

My first office hire was one of our service crew members that had been working with us for over 2 years.  She was looking for a switch and I thought why not join the office?  So she’s doing a jack-of-all-trades position, you could say administration and a bit of human resources.  The second hire was referred by a friend and is focused on building up our franchise offering.  I forget what we used to say it in the corporate world… basically creating something so that people can replicate it “out of the box.”  (Different from thinking out of the box).

What kind of roles do you think would be critical to fill right at the start?  Assuming there was only you at the beginning, what role would you have hired next to work in the office?

Grand Central Oyster Bar

How could I leave out the granddaddy of oyster bars?  While I was in New York City I dropped by Grand Central Oyster Bar, located in Grand Central Station.  I felt like one of the Mad Men characters slurping an oyster and downing a martini before catching a commuter train home.

A Tour of Oyster Bars

When I travel to different cities I always enjoy checking out their oyster bars and Japanese restaurants.  I like to tell myself that it's market research, but ultimately I just like these places and want to feel less guilty about spending oodles of money on raw little bivalves. 

In Anchorage, Alaska, I had the chance to check out this lovely small oyster bar called the Bubbly Mermaid.

It could seat around 8 people.  There was a large selection of champagne and on that day only one type of oyster... but we could choose to have it prepared in a myriad of ways (including natural).  Small space means people become friendly with each other, and throw in the natural friendliness of the folks in Alaska and it was a warm time chatting with the folks there.

A few days later we found ourselves in Portland, Oregon and wandering by the riverfront.  Needing a break we ducked into Dan & Louis Oyster Bar.  There was a cool girl shucking oysters, manning the bar, and chatting with the customers.  I was amazed at her ability to multi-task.  Even more amazed when she said it was only her second day at work. 

 

Something clicked

Two years ago I met a restaurant owner, and he told me about his rocky path to success.  He said for years his business muddled along until one day people came in droves and kept coming back.

2013 for Standing Sushi Bar is the year when something “clicked.”  Since January, the 8 Queen Street branch has been packed out nightly (except Sundays, that’s another nut to crack), the Marina Bay Link Mall location has boomed up, and Tanuki Raw is happy hour madness.  Knock on wood this continues; it’s as if a piano, cargo truck, and building were all lifted off my shoulders… still leaving a monkey on my back.  (That may not have made sense to anyone but me :D)

So why did business pick up so dramatically?

My guess is a combination of promotions, ads, publicity, and increasing brand awareness.  Sounds like obvious stuff, but the confluence of events necessary to reach a tipping point (I hate myself when I use that phrase, but it’s applicable) came through some planning and luck.

Promotions – I had toyed with various incentives to get folks in during off-peak periods, but at the beginning of the year I decided there was no point in half-assing around with weak promotions.  My philosophy is, it’s attractive to the diner if it’s making you (the business) feel uncomfortable.

Ads / Getting the word out there – Of course I wanted people to know about the new promotions, so I spent more on ads and made it a point to let people know in e-mail about what new things we were offering.  It was great that with Facebook ads and attractive offerings, people helped by sharing the information along their network.

Publicity – There was a good amount of press (traditional and online) focused on Tanuki Raw since it recently opened.  Almost every article referenced that it was by the folks behind the Japanese restaurant Standing Sushi Bar, which brought renewed attention to SSB at the same time as we were launching the new happy hour and weeknight concepts.

Increasing brand awareness – After 3 years, we’re not the new kid on the block anymore.  I would hope plenty of people have heard about Standing Sushi Bar!  I think that people have, and many of them may have made assumptions about the restaurant (too far, no seats, etc.) so never considered coming.  After seeing things shared by their friends and reading the name in the press, it may have been the nudge they needed to check us out.

I always wondered whether it was true what my friend said.  Seems like it.

On martinis and 2013

It's funny to think the strongest martinis I've had in a year have been from a sushi bar. We just launched a happy hour at the Standing Sushi Bar Marina Bay Link Mall branch so  being a good owner (read: food and drink sampler) I went down there to see how things went. 3 drinks later I was in bed before midnight, which never happens, and now am awake at 4+ in the morning.

So martinis in a sushi bar underground in a business district shopping mall. Is this something that is actually going to work? Will people come to drink? Who knows, but since the core business at Raffles Place and the financial centre is all during the weekday lunchtime, it allows us to do whatever the heck we want during the evening service.

Standing Sushi Bar Marina Bay Financial Centre happy hour

The start of the year has been interesting; perhaps full of a "I'm going to do what I want to do" spirit. In the past I think I worried about whether the staff were agreeable to my decisions, but these days as long as I "own the decision" then I'm comfortable plowing forward. Maybe it's a checks and balances thing with the staff being cautious while I lean towards recklessness.

Anyway, on to other matters! Tanuki Raw has been getting a fair bit of attention, which is pretty awesome. "Build it and they will come," as the line goes in Field of Dreams. Though it's more like, "Give them oysters and martinis and they will come."

Tanuki Raw interior at Orchard Central

The balcony over Orchard Road at Tanuki Raw

I could use a drink...

Tanuki has finally opened and thank goodness it's a bar since I could sure use a drink.

We're well into our soft-launch period and it's been great receiving feedback from the folks that have dropped in.  We need to tweak our menu to make a better delineation between what the Japanese items are versus the "fusion" ones and also which dishes are good for sharing and which are meant as individual entree size.

Staff is trained up, bar is stocked, the point of sale machine is finally working (on the first night it completely failed... definitely Murphy's Law), and the chefs are able to consistently execute the food items well!

So what's next... time to start beating the drums and make people aware that we exist.  We're also adding more items to the menu and gearing up to offer some lunch sets for the weekday office crowd.

Come on in, have a drink, and enjoy the holidays!

Sometimes staffing makes you smile

Most of what you read about staffing in Singapore centers around frustration - the difficulty in finding staff, the trouble with hiring good staff, and the limitations imposed by the foreigner quota.

Once in awhile you get a note that makes you feel warm.

"Hi Sir, you make me cry now, you know..anyhow the result is...but really I wanna say that THANKS SIR SO MUCH.

Hoping good news come to me and I'll work for Sir in the very next day!
Good night sir"

---

It's an applicant from Vietnam who has recently finished studying and has been on a short trainee stint at a restaurant here in Singapore.

It's refreshing to see the enthusiasm in her message.  I hope her permit gets approved!

Introducing Tanuki Raw

Three years have passed since throwing open the doors of Standing Sushi Bar.  It’s been a whirlwind of a ride; setting up branches at Queen Street and Marina Bay, opening in Jakarta, Indonesia, and putting in chairs for people to sit.  Three years of sake, sushi, and Japanese food.  It’s been heartening to see all the support from you all (yes, dear reader, I make the assumption that if you read this blog, you’re a supporter!) and there are exciting plans lined up for Standing Sushi Bar.

I’ve always envisioned Standing Sushi Bar as a modern restaurant serving straightforward tasty Japanese food.  We get a little experimental here and there, but as people would expect, we stick with Japanese.

The idea of a martini paired with oysters and sashimi has been gnawing at me.  There is something delightful in the mix of a crisp, chilled martini cutting through the brine and mineral bite of an oyster, and what’s better at bringing out the pure bright taste of sashimi than a bone dry martini?

I’m excited to introduce Tanuki Raw.  Inspired by the playfulness and affability of Seattle institutions such as the Walrus & Carpenter and Emmett Watson’s Oyster Bar, along with cocktails of yesteryear from ultra-hip Williamsburg’s Maison Premiere and Manhattan’s Mermaid Inn, Tanuki Raw focuses on delivering classic drinks exceptionally well combined with fun inventive food in a welcoming spot.

Tanuki is a mythological Japanese creature.  A playful trickster fond of pranks endowed with shapeshifting ability and a set of really big balls.

We’re opening late next week and I can hardly wait.

Learn more about Tanuki Raw on Facebook
Say hi to @tanukiraw on Twitter
Visit www.tanukibar.com

Menu: Pictures or No Pictures?

We're in the midst of refreshing our menu at Standing Sushi Bar Queen Street.  Photos of all the items have been taken, pricing has been determined, and the main thing left to do is layout the menu and then print it.

We've been having a lot of discussions about whether or not the menu should contain pictures for every food item.  I vote against having pictures in menus.  In my opinion it makes a menu unwieldy because of the number of pages and it also looks cheesy and messy.  Of course the flip side of the argument is that people won't have to ask service crew as many questions as they can just assume that the item ordered will correspond with the photo.  Some people also believe that seeing pictures of the food make people hungrier or want to "eat with their eyes."

I've decided to forego pictures on our main menu this time for a few reasons, the primary one being speed (trying to adjust the layout with pictures meant starting over a bunch of times) and trying to make the overall presentation look "cleaner."  I also like the idea of having people be pleasantly surprised by ordering the food (in text) and being happy with the visual presentation of the food once it gets to their table.

What's your opinion?  Do you prefer pictures on a menu or you're fine without it?  Does it make a huge difference to you?  Why do you think Western restaurants get away without having pictures on the menu compared to Japanese restaurants?

Singapore's Formula 1 Night Race

The Formula One weekend is coming to a close here in Singapore.  There's always lots of buzz around this weekend; tons of people come to town, the hotels do a booming business, and there's performances, parties, and a general lively atmosphere around the track area.

It's exciting to see the Singapore skyline and city streets receive so much attention and there's no doubt that it generates tourist interest.  The government are big proponents of F1.

However, it's not so rosy for business.  I was looking at the past Formula 1 weekends and comparing it with this weekend.  In each case, the business dropped by over 50%.  People are reluctant to come into the city centre as there are lots of road closures resulting in traffic and confusion, and also a sense that things will be too crazy around here so it's better to stay away.

Anecdotes from others indicate that I'm not the only one who feels like business is hurt by F1.

Ah well, what to do?

Maybe Katy Perry will drop by for some sushi before she jets off.  I heard she was playing tonight.

Sushi and Japanese food delivery begins!

Ever since opening our branch at Marina Bay Link Mall I've wanted to do delivery.  However setting up an online ordering service coupled with the additional delivery staff proved difficult.  There were existing services that would do the delivery for us, but they took at least 30% of the sale and the implementation was somewhat clunky, so after previous experiences with them I decided to pass.

Finally we are able to start delivery!  Found a good, responsive partner in Hastify, so as of today we are now doing deliveries to folks in Marina Bay Financial Centre and once that's smooth we will expand to more buildings in Raffles Place (and then the world!!!).

Order online, get sushi delivered, and eat!

Order online, get sushi delivered, and eat!

Next time you're swamped in the office or don't feel like going out, simply go to
http://hastify.com/standing-sushi-bar/marina-bay
and we'll bring our Japanese food to you.  Sushi, sashimi, lunch sets, oh my! 

Beat the Clock at Marina Bay!

Recently an assistant / intern joined our team and it has been great having him help out on a myriad of tasks.  One of the things he came up with was the "Beat the Clock" promotion.  In order to stimulate a little appetite and drinking we have introduced this at our Marina Bay Link Mall branch.  So if you're hankering for some sake, beer, and snacks in the Raffles Place area, come down to Standing Sushi Bar Marina Bay Link Mall!

Beat the Clock snack menu at Marina Bay Link Mall. Onigiri, sushi, temaki, salmon skin, and more!

Tuesday - Friday from 6 PM - 8 PM we are offering our snack menu + a glass of sake for a price of whatever time it is you order.  So if it's 7:15 PM then it's 7.15 SGD for a glass of sake and the snack!  Add 3 SGD to it for an Asahi beer or Heineken too!

My personal favorite is the kawa ebi.  Deep-fried shrimp which goes really well with beer.

Scheduled Facebook Posts

Recently Facebook added the “Schedule Posts” feature to Facebook Pages.  There have been other social media management tools that would allow you to do it, but now it’s a native Facebook feature so every page admin can use it.

It’s great; now I can line up content for the week… such as when I was in Hong Kong this past weekend the little Facebook bot was putting up posts related to the Night Festival on the Standing Sushi Bar page.

It frees me from bookmarking information that I want to share later; in the past I would take a clip of information and put it in OneNote and hopefully remember that I wanted to post it on a specific date or time.  It was a manual, kludgy process.

Now if I find something interesting I can put it into Facebook immediately and have it publish later.  The feature also makes it easier to create a series of posts as part of a campaign or event.

So yay Facebook for adding it!

One thing that isn’t immediately apparent – you might want to view or edit which posts are scheduled for publishing.  To do that you go to the top of your Facebook page, where the Admin panel is, and click “Edit Page.”  It shows a dropdown with “Use Activity Log” as one of the choices.  Click that and it lists what posts are upcoming.

Scheduled post on Standing Sushi Bar page

Night Owl Sushi

I was out of town this weekend in Hong Kong so was sad to miss the first weekend of Singapore's Night Festival 2012.  Thankfully it will happen again on August 31 and September 1 so I'll get a chance to see all the exhibits.

Since the museum asked the restaurants to stay open until 2 AM, I thought it would be fun to try out a new menu item - the Night Owl sushi roll that contained Red Bull as its base ingredient.  I think it's the first-time anyone has made sushi with Red Bull... well, I couldn't find any other mention of it on the internet!

Over the past two days we had over thirty orders for the Night Owl sushi.  Looks like people are willing to give Red Bull-based food products a try!

We'll be running the same promotions again this coming weekend so if you're curious, come in for a visit!