Yongsuk Kim, our experienced FOH Senior, shares his aspiration to continue greeting customers in restaurants even when he reaches his 70s, aiming to create unforgettable memories for them.
How did you enter this line of work?
My journey into this job began during my high school days when I worked as a hall worker. Despite not having a formal vocational school education, I attended a normal high school. One Christmas, a friend introduced me to a part-time job at a restaurant, and that's when I got my first taste of the industry. Even though I was a busy high school senior at the time, I fell in love with the job because I enjoyed interacting with and assisting people. That marked the beginning of my career in this field.
I've always had a preference for being active and engaging with people rather than sitting idle. The restaurant's owner, an elderly woman, appreciated my work, so I continued working there whenever I had the time, even through my college years.
To be honest, my parents were not initially supportive of my choice to work in the restaurant hall. They expressed concern and discouraged me from pursuing this path. I did take a break for a while due to their reservations, but I eventually returned to the job because I genuinely enjoyed it. Later on, I also gained experience working at an Italian restaurant. Back then, job openings were not as easily accessible through the internet, so I would go around with flyers and attend interviews. I've been in this industry for quite a long time.
What kind of experiences have you gained and skills have you learned over the years?
Initially, I learned the basics of hall management, handling coffee machines, creating beverage menus, and serving customers through practical experience rather than formal training. As the years went by, I accumulated a wealth of experience, and with time, I acquired valuable know-how. In my approach to work, I tend to stay with one establishment for an extended period, taking on more responsibilities as opportunities arise or higher-ranking positions become available. This has allowed me to learn various aspects of the job, from the fundamentals to management, as I continued on my professional journey.
One thing I realized early on was that this is a career I can see myself doing for a long time, even into old age. I believe it's crucial to have experience in restaurant operations and customer interactions in the hall to thrive in this profession.
Did you face any challenges along the way?
Absolutely, it was not an easy journey. After completing my military service, I returned to the Italian restaurant where I had worked before. Job hunting during that time was particularly tough, and the workload was quite overwhelming. There were moments when I felt like giving up and questioned whether this career was meant for me in the long run. As a result, I decided to try something completely different and ended up working at an Euljiro lighting company for two years. Looking back, as Steve Jobs once said, every experience contributes to shaping who we are, even though it wasn't the best fit for me at the time. Nonetheless, it provided an opportunity for self-discovery. I learned about lighting and electricity, collaborated with companies, and acquired various skills, big and small.
During this period, I had an honest conversation with my parents. Despite my brother pursuing a stable job as a public servant, I expressed my desire to challenge myself and pursue what I truly wanted to do. My parents tried to understand my perspective, and although it was difficult, I felt gratified to be doing something I found genuinely interesting.
What do you find captivating about interacting with people at a restaurant?
It may sound ironic, but I've had difficulties with conversation in the past. Yet, this job has proven to be incredibly enjoyable. It's a thrilling experience to do what I couldn't before, but now can through my work. Being part of this job makes me feel like I'm becoming a more proactive individual. I'm drawn to it because it allows me to break free from the constraints of a traditional framework and explore diverse experiences through my work.
How did you become a member of the Solbam team?
My journey to Solbam was not straightforward. Prior to joining here, I worked at restaurants like Jungsik and Aupres, each experience building up to this point. I spent about two and a half years at Jungsik, where I had the opportunity to connect with our sommelier Dongyeon Ko. t that time, Jungsik had some of the finest sommeliers in Korea, and observing their service and wine knowledge was highly educational. Although I hadn't officially started studying wine, I knew I could take it gradually. My focus at the time was more on customer service, and with many foreign patrons, I gained a diverse range of experiences. I learned about table care, restaurant lighting, and sound, gaining insights into the finer details of dining service. The restaurant was quite sizable, and its high standards for fine dining service set the bar for me, particularly as it received rave reviews upon Michelin Guide's launch in Seoul.
Later on, I had a fun time working at Aupres. The atmosphere there was distinct, with an emphasis on personalized and intimate service. It was a different kind of charm that I enjoyed. While I had hoped to continue there, the restaurant eventually closed due to the chef's health reasons. Following a suggestion from Chef Eom and Somm Ko, I decided to join the Solbam team.
How do you feel working at Solbam?
Having experienced different restaurants in my previous career, I can confidently say that each restaurant has its own distinct character and atmosphere. The service rules, owner's vision, sommelier's approach, and manager's direction can vary significantly. There's virtually nothing in common between the systems and scales of different establishments. Now that I've established my standards and built my career through various restaurant experiences, I can sense the unique personality of Solbam. What sets it apart is the shared goal of providing exceptional experiences to our customers. It's a place where excellent service and teamwork, which I've always dreamed of, are emphasized, and that feeling and energy are evident in how we interact with our guests.
In your opinion, what constitutes good service in a restaurant?
To me, good service is about paying attention to the details. It's not just about the food; every aspect can be considered part of the restaurant's service. The front desk plays a crucial role in creating this kind of hospitality that ensures guests can enjoy their meals comfortably. Such thoughtfulness is what differentiates bistro service from fine dining. The potential for enriching experiences in a restaurant space is limitless. The service, wine selection, interaction, and emotions all contribute to creating lasting memories of the day.
Beyond providing good service, a great restaurant leaves a lasting impression on its guests, becoming a medium for creating cherished memories. The time spent by people within those walls becomes intertwined with stories and fond recollections. I once read an article about a restaurant in New York that had closed down, but a customer who had visited years later bumped into the youngest employee on the street, and they reminisced about their experiences at the restaurant. This story resonated with me deeply. It's truly rewarding to connect with people and offer them memorable moments through the dining experience.
What are your future dreams and aspirations?
My dream is to remain here at Solbam for a long time, without any limit on how long that might be. Together with the amazing team members, I want to push the boundaries of what we can achieve. There's still so much to learn, and I'm eager to continue my growth. While moving around to different businesses might be an option for some, I believe there's immense value in staying in one place for an extended period.
Similar to a tree, I want to be a person who can welcome others even if they visit after a long time. In Seoul, trends and people's preferences change rapidly, leading to high turnover rates, but I hope to play a role in offering a welcoming and stable environment for our guests over the years. Perhaps even in my 70s or 80s, I hope to greet them with a warm smile. I'm already looking forward to sharing in each other's development and maturation.