Savouring culture and heritage with Old Street Bak Kut Teh
In a multi-cultural and multi-faceted island city-state, there has always been no lack of choices when it comes to food. Our multi-racial society has given rise to a potpourri of savoury cuisines and a vibrant food scene, shaping an extensive cultural palate, which is international and yet, uniquely Singapore.
According to a poll conducted by the National Heritage Board (NHB), “Food Heritage” was voted to be the “most important aspect of Singapore’s intangible cultural heritage.” Specifically, participants strongly supported Hawker Culture to be nominated for UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Among iconic cuisines found in the usual hawker fare, such as Hainanese Chicken Rice, Nasi Lemak, Roti Prata, Satay and Kaya Toast, Bak Kut Teh is a quintessential Singapore classic dish.
A traditional Chinese soup primarily prepared from chunks of meaty pork ribs, pepper, garlic and cinnamon, amongst other fragrant spices and herbs, Bak Kut Teh, is a popular dish in Singapore, believed to be have been introduced by early Hokkien immigrants from China’s Fujian province.
Established in 2010, Old Street Bak Kut Teh is a well-loved home-grown brand, specialising in the traditional Chinese herbal pork-rib soup. With 16 outlets island-wide, 2 outlets in Indonesia and an outlet in China, Mr Jason Lim, Managing Director of Old Street, has successfully transformed the business by being the first to bring this traditional dish into the comfort of shopping malls. Having a grand vision to bridge the young and old, by bringing Singapore’s Chinese culture and heritage of savouring Bak Kut Teh to the modern cities of the world, Old Street is committed to preserving the traditional dish by providing a unique taste and dining experience to all.
A TRADITIONAL TWIST, A TWIST OF INNOVATION
With the flourishing climate of innovation and the push for local enterprises to foster innovation in their products and services, Old Street has also jumped on the bandwagon, taking massive strides towards revolutionising the traditional taste of Bak Kut Teh. Adopting a unique East-meets-West approach, the restaurant has been offering an interesting twist to the traditional cuisine by introducing new dishes such as its signature Dry Bak Kut Teh to appeal to younger customers. Other innovative dishes include Seafood Bak Kut Teh, Seafood Porridge, Sesame Chicken and Combo Mix Claypot, providing diners with a myriad of choices. This traditional twist has enabled Old Street to adopt a unique brand positioning, which has helped the company differentiate itself from its competitors.
“Old Street Bak Kut Teh has always believed in innovation. There is no such thing as a stagnant product, but an old mindset. We need to quickly adapt to changes, as the failure to keep pace and reinvent our existing products on the menu will render us uncompetitive in the current marketplace. The management at Old Street has always remained focused on keeping abreast of new developments in the industry. We are committed to creating new value and are always on the look-out for innovative ideas. In order to stay relevant, we cannot be satisfied with the status quo.”
“Acquiring timely customer feedback is very important for us. Old Street has several communication platforms set in place to ensure that our customers are able to reach us conveniently. They often use social media platforms like Facebook to provide us with spontaneous feedback and reviews. Through this, we can then conduct relevant investigations based on the feedback received so that we can rectify any pressing issues immediately to prevent reoccurrences of such,” shared Mr Lim.
EMBRACING DIGITALISATION FOR SUCCESS
In 2013, Old Street introduced digital food ordering and payment systems through the iPad-ordering system. Customers are able to place orders at their convenience, which allows for a more positive dining experience – reducing the waiting time and eliminating the possibilities of placing wrong orders. According to Mr Lim, the ordering system has increased overall productivity and successfully reduced the work load for staff members at the restaurant, especially during peak dining hours. Technology adoption in the work process has paid off handsomely for the company, as it has seen an increase in productivity by 20 percent and a decrease in operation costs by 30 percent.
“In the past, there was a long waiting time for our customers to place their orders. The lack of manpower in some of our restaurants made this worse, and diners would get really frustrated with the wait. Now, with this new, improved way of doing things, customers can place their orders immediately and repeat any orders without delay. Our employees can then focus on service quality such as attending to specific customer requests and clearing the tables in preparation for the next group of diners,” shared Mr Lim.
In addition to improving customer experience, Old Street has also been able to collect data on customer preferences. Using data to understand consumer habits and trends has allowed the management to make better-informed decisions and develop a better business strategy to stay ahead of the competition. Specifically, they are able to create programmes to better tailor to customers. Some of the useful findings include demographics, the spending per head count and average waiting time.
In 2018, Old Street continued its efforts in digitalisation by introducing the new Queue Management System, which allows customers to stand in line and place orders even before reaching the restaurant, using a QR code. Diners can also pay via the Pay-Pal app, thus saving waiting time at the cashier.
“All SMEs should quickly embrace and adopt digitalisation because this is the future for all trades and there is no turning back to the old model. You need to understand that digitalisation is a complement to our trade and not a disruption in the negative sense. The sooner you adopt technology in your business models, the more benefits you can expect to reap,” Mr Lim advised.
VENTURING ABROAD WITH SINGAPORE'S STRONG BRAND
Globalisation has given rise to a highly competitive and interconnected economy. Hence, internationalisation of businesses is no longer a choice, but a necessary overall strategy for every business model. With Singapore’s strong brand name, representative of qualities such as credibility and reliability, local enterprises have been able to leverage this competitive edge to venture abroad.
Old Street is now the largest chain of Bak Kut Teh stores in Singapore, with 16 outlets across the island, and a couple more in Indonesia and China. Mr Lim shared that he has plans to introduce the quintessential Chinese soup to discerning Chinese consumers residing in the Western hemisphere, bringing them closer to home.
“Embracing digitalisation has played a significant role in helping Old Street Bak Kut Teh maintain its operations locally and abroad. We are very much connected 24/7 today, and we are hence able to monitor our outlets everywhere, ensuring that our service quality is not compromised. Technology has also ensured consistency in the execution of our vision throughout the company. Above all, we are able to launch new product ideas globally and simultaneously,” stated Mr Lim.
Sharing his plans for Old Street in the next 5 to 10 years, Mr Lim said that he envisions the homegrown company to become a highly recognised international brand.
“If I could turn back time, the one thing I would absolutely do is to start Old Street Bak Kut Teh much earlier than I did,” expressed Mr Lim.
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