Mastering the art of learning on your feet
"Be comfortable with uncertainty — you never know what’s around the corner."
Sarah Lin Shuyi is no stranger to an impossible challenge. The first day she opened the doors of her new restaurant Carvers & Co was the first day she had staff. Running on no sleep having stayed up furiously prepping for her first customers, she found herself in the kitchen with a team that wasn’t quite sure how to hold a pan — let alone a knife.
Learning on the go
“Finding good staff can be difficult for a startup, because people have no idea who you are and don’t know how long your business is going to be around”.
It was opening day and Sarah was behind the stove frantically trying to keep up with orders. Because it was her staff’s first day, there had been no time to train them or show them how to cook what was on the menu. Orders were piling up. The dishes she had chosen were tricky and time consuming to prepare and she felt herself falling behind. Battling the urge to run away and hide, Sarah stood her ground and pushed through service until everyone was fed.
While the experience tested her, she used it as a learning experience, and she changed the menu to straightforward meals that could be served quickly.
“As a small business owner, you have to problem solve on your feet. Don’t try and solve them all at once. Tackle them one at a time”.
Listen to your customer
Carvers & Co had been successfully running for over a year when Sarah embarked on her next venture, Wolf Burgers.
“We rolled out a burger at the restaurant that was really popular, so we decided to start a stall at PasarBella that only did burgers”. In Singapore where inexpensive burgers were rare, Sarah saw a need for good quality burgers that didn’t break the bank.
Putting into practice what she had learned from opening her first restaurant, Sarah made sure the processes at Wolf Burger were extremely straightforward and streamlined. And her experience has paid off; the business is doing better than she ever expected it would.
“We listened to our customers and gave them what they wanted verses what we wanted to give them. It has been key to our success”.
Achieving the impossible
Running two successful restaurants with no previous hospitality experience might seem like an impossible feat, but this didn’t deter Sarah.
“It has been a steep learning curve, one we’ve had to adapt to and learn as we go along. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been the most fulfilling thing I’ve done”.
She plans to expand the ‘small space – high traffic area’ concept of Wolf Burger in Singapore, eventually taking it to other markets like Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam.
This will mean a lot more work, but Sarah is comfortable with the uncertainty of not knowing what is around the corner.
“It’s definitely something I can look back on and think: I did that. Sometimes I can’t believe what I’ve achieved”.