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FOH Junior: Hye-yeon Choi

Explore the journey of FOH Junior Hye-yeon Choi, who s dedicated to providing service that transcends conventional boundaries, guided by a core principle of empathy and genuine care for people.

What sparked your interest in this profession?

My interest in this career path began during my time as a student when I had a fascination with practical skills that are used in everyday life. Learning foreign languages, especially English, was something I pursued passionately. However, I realized that standing out in English proficiency was challenging due to the high level of competition. That's when I decided to pivot towards Chinese language studies and obtained a Chinese language certificate. I graduated from Korea Tourism High School, which often provides opportunities in the hotel and airline sectors. During my free time and weekends, I worked part-time at a hotel, gaining valuable experience in the realities of the hospitality industry. This experience ultimately led me to choose a career in the service sector.

What has your career journey been like so far?

In high school, I took on part-time work at a hotel's banquet hall on weekends. However, the pandemic caused frequent school closures, allowing me to work at the hotel for about four days a week during weekdays. At this point, I was quite young and not a full-time employee, so I can't claim to have gained profound expertise. Nevertheless, I learned the dynamics of organizational life and the importance of finding one's role within a team.

By the time I turned 20, I had accumulated approximately a year and a half of experience working at a casual dining restaurant. This restaurant offered both à-la-carte and course menus, and my manager, who had a background in the hotel industry, had a strong commitment to excellent service. Although I initially questioned the significance of focusing on such minute details, I gradually recognized their importance while working under the guidance of this manager. He emphasized the significance of wine knowledge, so we sold wine directly to customers and were trained in wine appreciation. I received daily wine education sessions lasting two to three hours and occasionally had the opportunity to sample high-quality wines to enhance my understanding. Thanks to this experience, I also obtained the WSET Level 2 certification in wine.

How did you come to join Solbam?

Following my tenure at the casual wine bistro, which lasted for about four months, I felt dissatisfied due to the lack of mentorship for someone new to the world of service. The absence of a senior to guide me in matters related to wine was a significant drawback. It was at this point that I realized what I truly desired in my career. I was eager to learn and absorb more knowledge and skills. While fine dining establishments equipped me with high standards of service, I realized it was challenging to adapt those skills to a casual restaurant environment. Consequently, I actively sought a place where I could expand my horizons and further develop my skills. When I came across Solbam's job opening, I applied without hesitation.

My introduction to the "Michelin Guide" and its significance occurred through my association with Solbam. This experience underscored just how much there is to learn, and I recognize that I have a long journey ahead. Nevertheless, the head sommelier later expressed to me that despite my limited experience, my enthusiasm and passion were unmistakable. Hearing those words was truly encouraging.

What makes service jobs, particularly in a restaurant, appealing to you?

To me, the allure lies in the ability to cater to people. Engaging with unfamiliar faces and learning about the various customers I encounter during service is a unique and enriching experience. There are moments when I reflect on the diverse personalities and perspectives of the individuals I serve. At times, dealing with people's emotions can be challenging, especially considering my relative youth, but it's a challenge I'm determined to overcome.

Could you describe Solbam's approach to service?

What left the strongest impression on me after joining the team was the emphasis on meaningful interactions with customers. While I initially believed it was essential to memorize and deliver standardized explanations flawlessly, I soon realized the importance of understanding the unique needs, circumstances, and emotions of each customer sitting in front of me. Occasionally, my manager assigns me missions like, "Find out where the customers at that table plan to go after their meal," which can still be a daunting task. However, I've come to find it enjoyable and have embraced the opportunity to engage in more personalized interactions.

I've always believed that the intricacies of service should adapt to individual preferences and situations. While we are taught, for instance, to serve from the left side, there are moments when reaching out in front of the customer may feel intrusive. It's a subtle aspect, but the sommelier emphasized that "the essence of service is ensuring the comfort of our customers, even if it means making ourselves slightly uncomfortable." I'm continuously learning the art of service that transcends rigid frameworks, guided by a principle of understanding and caring for people.

What have been the most rewarding and challenging moments in your work?

Regarding the most gratifying aspects of my work, it's incredibly fulfilling to hear positive feedback about our service and to know that customers have had a memorable time with me. While it's just the beginning, contributing to the establishment of Solbam's reputation as a team is also a source of great satisfaction.

On the other hand, the most challenging aspect has been my proficiency in English. My academic background is in Chinese, but in a restaurant setting, English is almost as crucial as Korean. Despite having much to share with our international customers, it can be frustrating when I can't express myself adequately in English. On average, we serve more than one foreign table every day, so I dedicate time to reading, memorizing, and rehearsing English explanations several times before each service. I've been particularly concerned about this, but our sous-chef, Eun-jung Park, offered some encouraging advice: "Confidence and a kind demeanor are more valuable than fluency. People will appreciate your efforts even if your language skills are not perfect." I draw inspiration from these words and tackle the language challenge every day.

What are your aspirations within Solbam?

My current focus is on continuous learning and growth. After about a month at Solbam, I had a meeting with the chef and the manager, and they shared valuable advice. They mentioned that in the future, I could consider a more specialized role as a manager or sommelier. Additionally, they occasionally send me informative video clips, which shows their commitment to my development. While I'm still in the exploratory phase, I do have a goal of achieving WSET level 3 certification in wine and progressing to higher positions within Solbam. Above all, my top priority right now is to provide exceptional service at our restaurant, ensuring that customers leave with not just a memory of our food but also a recollection of our team members, especially my face.

What dreams do you harbor for the long-term future?

In the more distant future, I have a vision that involves my two beloved puppies back at my parents' house. They are a cute Bichon and Toy Poodle. I aspire to open a dog cafe one day, where I can imagine experiencing happiness while enjoying the company of these adorable animals.


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