Solbam's FOH Senior, Sera Lee, beautifully encapsulates the essence of hospitality services in the word 'Welcoming.' According to her, this single word embodies everything that is vital in providing exceptional service to our guests.
How did you get into this job?
My journey into this job began with my love for coffee from a young age. It led me to enroll in a tourist high school where I wholeheartedly studied everything about coffee. However, as my knowledge and experience grew, I discovered that coffee was deeply intertwined with the service industry. While mastering the art of roasting and extracting beans is essential, I realized that the true essence of coffee lies in how it is delivered to customers. This revelation made me value the interactions with people and the process of serving food and drinks, which inspired me to consider studying abroad.
I had a strong desire to explore hospitality from a broader perspective, which prompted me to pursue education at a hotel school in France. But before embarking on my international journey, I worked as an employee at an Italian restaurant in Busan for about six months. It was during this time that I truly found joy and fell in love with the service industry. The practical experience of interacting with customers in a real-world setting differed significantly from what I had learned from books. The dynamic environment of the kitchen, the front, and the customers was incredibly stimulating, pushing me to seek further knowledge and understanding.
Did you felt any challenge in France?
Language proved to be a significant barrier in my journey. Despite taking English classes, I soon realized that French was a necessity, especially during my internships and fieldwork where I encountered French-speaking individuals. Being fluent in the language felt like solving half of the challenge, so I dedicated myself to studying French diligently every night.
Before going abroad, I had already acknowledged the language problem, but the reality was even more complex. In Korea, administrative services are handled swiftly, but in France, obtaining even a simple document could take up to a month due to strikes and other factors. The vast cultural and social differences posed unexpected difficulties.
Nevertheless, studying abroad provided me with invaluable opportunities to broaden my horizons. It was an experience I would never have had otherwise. France boasts an exceptionally developed tourism industry with a long history of hospitality service. I wondered how it would differ from Korea, and upon arrival, I discovered that there was a distinct lack of rigid boundaries and formality between customers and employees. Instead, a more intimate and personal approach to communication prevailed. French hoteliers seemed to engage in warm and individual conversations, treating guests like family. I was captivated by this charming warmth and sense of hospitality.
Tell us about your career path.
During my study abroad period, the program operated by having us attend classes for one week, followed by practical experience in a hotel building owned by the school. We were assigned specific roles and immediately immersed ourselves in hands-on practice. Additionally, I interned at a hotel in Nice, a beautiful resort city in southern France, for half a year. Though I could have opted to work at an overseas business at that time, I decided to return to Korea and work in a fine dining restaurant, which I found more personally meaningful. I believed that combining my learning experiences abroad with real-life experience in a Korean business would make my education more systematic and meaningful.
As the end of my restaurant work approached, it was time to go back to school. However, a hiccup occurred as my name was omitted from the dormitory list, leading me to continue working for an extra semester. Although I was unable to return to France due to the global impact of COVID-19, I still feel grateful for the knowledge and experience I gained during that precious time spent both in the classroom and in the field. All of these experiences have shaped me into the service-oriented person I am today.
How did you end up at Solbam?
I was aware that my colleague, Ko Dongyeon, had joined Solbam as an open member, but initially, I didn't consider changing jobs alongside him. However, fate had a different plan for me. I happened to do a part-time service job here for a day, and I was instantly struck by the unique atmosphere at Solbam. What stood out the most was Chef Eom himself coming out and warmly saying, "Please take care of me today." That gesture left a lasting impression on me.
How can you describe working at Solbam?
In my previous workplaces, while they were well-established and well-equipped, there was a sense of building things step by step. However, at Solbam, it's different. Chef Eom meticulously thinks about every aspect, from the restaurant to the food and the teamwork, and these ideas are fluidly put into action. For instance, when the menu changes, the service team collaboratively considers new cutlery and plates, which may be challenging at times, but it's a pleasant stress that we all embrace.
What do you think is the essense of hospitality?
The word that the professor said in my previous school class still sets a significant standard for me: "Hospitality is welcoming," and everything revolves around this concept. It encompasses answering customers' calls, greeting them warmly, and ensuring they have a delightful experience throughout their visit.
While delicious food, quality ingredients, and appealing tableware are crucial factors in providing good service, I believe that we, as servers, have the ability to make well-prepared food even more enjoyable. Our role is to create a comfortable and joyful environment for our guests. No matter how delicious the food is, if it's not served in a pleasant manner, people might not want to return. So, making our guests feel at ease and happy is equally essential in delivering an exceptional dining experience.
How do you spend your holiday?
Actually, I don't have any special know-how to relieve stress. I've been thinking about that for 10 years. When I was young, I used to go to a cafe and sit alone, but now I think of work even when I go to a cafe! (laughs) But I really like the feeling of delivering small gifts such as flowers and cosmetics with letters. So I'm having fun buying those things and meeting people and giving them presents.
What is your futre dream?
I've always had the aspiration of becoming a teacher, perhaps influenced by my father's own career in the teaching profession.
A meal, to me, is not just a simple act of eating; it's a window into a person's personality. Table manners play a vital role in revealing one's character. While the mechanical aspects of table manners are taught in technical home books during middle and high school, there's more to it than that. Proper manners, behavior, and attitude should also be an integral part of education. I believe it's essential to instill these values in everyone, including the cleaning staff, empowering them to develop a strong sense of self and become valued members of society. Drawing from my own experience in the field, I am eager to contribute and play a role in teaching these aspects.
However, I've noticed that many teenagers who dream of working in the hospitality industry, such as restaurants or service-oriented businesses, often abandon their aspirations due to various challenges and opt for completely different career paths. It's not necessarily the job's difficulty that dissuades them, but rather other factors, like the demanding nature of the work or the perception of certain roles as merely menial tasks. I strongly believe that these jobs should be recognized and established with equal awareness, professional expertise, and adequate welfare, similar to any other profession.
For now, my focus is on fulfilling my responsibilities and playing a significant role in contributing to the growth of Solbam. I am determined to give my best efforts and contribute positively to the restaurant's success. I'll continue to strive for excellence in my position, knowing that it will be a step toward achieving my long-term goal of becoming a teacher!