Solbam's general manager Ha Joo-hyung emphasizes the importance of team members having a genuine smile in their eyes. This is because their strength and well-being contribute to conveying exceptional value to guests.
What led you to pursue this career in this hopitality business?
When I was young, I watched a chef on TV and became captivated by the art of cooking. This inspired me to attend a culinary high school and pursue a cooking major in college. I even had the opportunity to intern in the U.S. for a year. Upon returning to Korea, I secured a position at Ryunique, an innovative fine dining restaurant. However, due to a shortage of employees, I worked as a server there instead. Surprisingly, the work turned out to be more enjoyable than I had anticipated. While it was slightly hard to give up my studies to cooking, I realized that having a foundational understanding of the culinary arts could strengthen my abilities in the service job.
What is the charm of working in the front of house (FOH) and engaging with guests?
In my field, which revolves around delivering, explaining and presenting experiences rather than dishes I personally create or wines I brew, I can witness diners' responses firsthand. Engaging and sharing emotions with them brings immense joy.
Through my work, I have also gained a deeper understanding of my own inclinations. I thoroughly enjoy observing people's reactions and engaging in conversation. When I converse with someone, I find their life story fascinating and appreciate the colorful experiences that arise from exploring both our similarities and differences. I believe that everyone has something to teach and learn from one another. While it is challenging to claim that every interaction with people is a constant stream of positive encounters, I am attracted to the complexity and unpredictability of even the smallest variables in these interactions.
What kind of career have you had so far?
To begin, I started my career at Ryunique, where I spent two years honing my skills. Subsequently, I embarked on a five-year journey of continuous learning at Jungsik - a 2-star restaurant in Seoul. Eventually, I joined Solbam. When I initially started working in the dining scene, it was before the Michelin Guide evaluated establishments in Seoul, and the general public's awareness of fine dining was not as high as it is today. Consequently, creating a vibrant atmosphere and a sense of liveliness was crucial, as there were limited customers willing to indulge in fine dining at that price range.
The restaurant operated based on the vision of the chef and the owner. I acquired the expertise to manage various costs, including utilities such as water and electricity. Hall work fundamentally revolves around interpersonal interactions, doesn't it? In the process, I established a standard for what not to do when dealing with guests. I realized that actions I perceived as friendly or familiar as an individual could sometimes be off-putting in the context of the guest-employee relationship. Being young and genuinely well-intentioned, I didn't always anticipate or adhere to the established standards from the outset (laughs). I certainly made my fair share of mistakes.
In my subsequent job, I delved into the intricacies of workflow and operations. I gleaned valuable insights into systems and how larger companies manage their dining halls. Over time, as I encountered a diverse array of customers, I faced unforeseen emergencies and gradually learned how to respond effectively. Though I hope such situations never occur, it is possible that a customer might suddenly fall ill in a restaurant. In those moments, knowing who to notify, how to provide immediate aid, and which measures to take becomes crucial. I have undergone extensive training to ensure that even in such challenging circumstances, I remain composed and capable. Naturally, this readiness extends beyond emergencies and encompasses the provision of daily services, as I strive to create an environment where customers feel consistently at ease and enjoy a pleasant dining experience.
Was there a specific reason for you to start working at Solbam?
In the autumn of 2022, I got married and celebrated the occasion with a dinner at Solbam, where I proposed to my wife-to-be. The food we experienced that day left a lasting impression on us, and it also coincided with a time when I felt ready for a new challenge after spending five years at my previous job.
I had three different job options in mind, but my inclination leaned towards Solbam. I had the opportunity to have a job interview and instantly developed a deep admiration for the chef. During the interview, we delved into discussions about the chef's vision and philosophy regarding food. I was also drawn to the emphasis placed on respecting and supporting the service team. These impressions resonated with me, and thus, I embarked on a new chapter by taking up the challenge at Solbam.
What role does the service team play at Solbam?
The service team's role goes beyond mere food service—it involves understanding and attending to the customers' emotions. Ultimately, dining is about achieving overall satisfaction. It encompasses not only the quality of the food but also factors such as the ambiance of the restaurant, the temperature of water in the restroom, the speed and clarity of explanations during service, and even the choice of words used. All these elements intertwine to create a holistic sense of satisfaction. Attention to detail can be perfected when service team members are given the time to work diligently. Being relaxed doesn't imply idleness; it means being prepared.
At Solbam, we strive for a "friendly gentle" approach. Rather than rigidly adhering to a manual, we aim to foster an environment and provide service that respects and cherishes one another. Team members often engage in discussions on how to truly apply the concept of "friendly gentle" in their service. Our goal is to make our customers feel both warmly welcomed and comfortable while maintaining a clear and unwavering commitment to excellence. This entails paying attention to details such as the angle at which dishes are placed, the position of cutlery, using words and actions that convey respect for the guests—all while maintaining a kind and considerate demeanor. Sometimes, friendliness can be mistaken for lack of professionalism, but we believe that should not be the case for our service team. Even in creating a comfortable atmosphere, we firmly adhere to Solbam's exacting service standards, which are underpinned by meticulous attention and thoughtful consideration.
What are your current responsibilities as the General Manager at Solbam?
As the General Manager, my role is to oversee and manage the overall operations of the restaurant and provide support to the team members. It involves quickly assessing and addressing unexpected events and handling customer complaints when they arise. Additionally, I work closely with the chef to monitor the financial aspects of the business. I provide guidance and offer insights on effectively managing the restaurant's finances, identifying areas for cost reduction, and determining where investments can be made.
While our guests are important, I believe it is equally crucial to take care of our team members. It's essential that all our team members are healthy, happy, and motivated, as this directly impacts the quality of service we deliver to our customers. While we maintain a professional approach to our work, it's equally important to foster trust and camaraderie among the team members. A genuine smile in their eyes and a sense of unity create a powerful synergy among our staff. Together, we strive to create an atmosphere that reflects these values.
What do you envision for yourself in 10 years?
My aspiration is to become a good father. In essence, I aim to fulfill the role of a dependable parent, creating a stable economic environment. When I contemplate the sacrifices and efforts my father made for me, my siblings, and my mother, I feel immense gratitude and respect for establishing a foundation that has allowed me to enjoy life. I also devote considerable thought to becoming a loving and responsible father for my future children and a caring husband for my wife.
Prior to getting married, I came to learn more about my father. He used to run a business, and I discovered that he faced tremendous challenges and hardships during his work - I didn't know that, because he made every effort to shield us from those difficulties. Once I became aware of these things, my admiration for the sacrifices my father made deepened. I aspire to follow in his footsteps. I am constantly contemplating the actions I should take to realize my dream of living as a father in 10 years' time.
Do you have a life motto?
There is a saying that I always keep close to my heart: "Let's have ambitious dreams with a humble spirit." This motto encourages me to pursue lofty ideals while remaining grounded and steadfast, avoiding wishful thinking and instead progressing honestly through the necessary steps. I strive to give my all and diligently work towards growth in every aspect of my life.