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Gaining an Edge

How GPlusMedia helped Fish Bank Tokyo, NoMad Grill Lounge and Tokyo Whisky Library leverage the skills of non-Japanese employees to attract new customers.

Kohei Sato and international staff at Fish Bank Tokyo.

We sat down with Kohei Sato, general manager for the restaurant division of Edge, Ltd., a company specialized in wedding and dining operations in Tokyo about…

GPlusMedia services used:

  • CareerEngine, GaijinPot
  • Job postings, managed search

What are the background details regarding your hiring of non-Japanese personnel at Edge?

Kohei Sato: Edge is a business that works in the field of restaurants, weddings and similar food and beverage services. Currently, our restaurant division manages seven dining locations, mainly in Tokyo. We needed to accommodate many non-Japanese customers, and — in terms of language — we had no trouble thanks to our Japanese staff members who can speak English. With time, however, we also felt a need for staff who offer the cosmopolitan cultural background and sensibilities that our Japanese personnel do not have. Since the selling point of many of our restaurants is their high class and attention to cultural details, finely tuned customer service is indispensable.

Fish Bank Tokyo, for example, is a French seafood restaurant perched on an upper floor offering a view of the city at night. NoMad Grill Lounge is a steakhouse with a menu focusing on dry-aged steak. Tokyo Whisky Library is a bar and lounge where customers can enjoy over 1,200 types of whisky enhanced by a great musical atmosphere. The explanations of the dishes we offer at these restaurants would simply not register with guests if given by someone coming from an unrelated cultural environment and background.

In the last three to four years in particular, we have seen an increase in groups and companies booking incentive tours and events, as well as a higher number of foreign guests, which boosted our need for non-Japanese employees.

How do you hire qualified non-Japanese employees?

KS: We post our job openings to job listing websites run by a number of companies. Many of those we have hired have been international students, non-Japanese people with Japanese spouses and similar personnel. We also post on your [GPlusMedia] recruitment website. Your site has channeled direct inquires to us. For example, one individual managing a bar in Hong Kong learned about Tokyo Whisky Library, applied to work with us and then came to Tokyo after being hired.

Right now, we have about 10 staff members from countries and regions including Vietnam, cities in mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South America. That number has grown as we have increased the number of restaurants we manage. Fish Bank Tokyo employs the largest amount of our international workers — five, including kitchen and hall staff. We have two foreign employees each at NoMad Grill Lounge and Tokyo Whisky Library.

Are there things Edge is careful about when hiring non-Japanese personnel?

KS: We check their backgrounds very carefully before they join the company and communicate openly and often after they arrive.

Compared to other companies, at Edge, we put extra effort into verifying personal references and visa status, which is a time-consuming process. Due to the latter, there are instances when we lose touch with some applicants before the process finishes, so we try to explain that process to them. After they join the company, we try to communicate carefully with them so that linguistic nuances don’t create misunderstandings. I think that it’s important to forge solid relationships regardless of one’s nationality, so we made a point of having open discussions, including our non-Japanese employees, when addressing issues as a team. To achieve our goals, it’s essential to execute with sufficient understanding from all of our staff.

Some years ago, the emphasis was on rigid hierarchy and top-down dynamics in communication and training. However, since we adopted this new style, I feel that we’ve had fewer misunderstandings.

we have seen an increase in groups and companies booking incentive tours and events, as well as a higher number of foreign guests, which boosted our need for non-Japanese employees

Kohei Sato, GM
(Restaurant division) edge

Another issue is employee meals. Due to religion or culture as well as allergies and vegetarian diets, we sometimes have to prepare as many as five different kinds of employee meals. In organizations with up to 60 employees, it’s important to understand and alleviate sources of stress for each individual. I’m always thinking about whether our company climate is being a help or a hindrance to staff.

What are some of the benefits of hiring non-Japanese employees?

KS: I think it’s wonderful to be able to offer broad-minded and flexible customer service thanks to employing staff with different viewpoints and experiences from their diverse upbringings, cultural backgrounds and lifestyles. Now, our non-Japanese customers can feel more relaxed when they come to our restaurant and our Japanese employees can deliver services with more peace of mind knowing that we have non-Japanese workers on staff.

Another appealing aspect is that we can hire staff with a sense of hospitality and a style of welcoming guests that is different from Japanese people. One person from Nigeria who we used to have on staff exemplified both of these qualities. He was excellent as a waiter and even became something of a PR personality for the restaurant itself. There were many guests who came just because he was there.

Also, since Edge provides food and drink mainly with a Western focus, having people on staff who are knowledgeable of the related culture lets us give more detailed descriptions to customers.

What does the future look like for non-Japanese employees working at Edge? 

KS: We think that we would like to hire more non-Japanese employees. Right now, these are mostly hall and kitchen staff, but as inbound tourism is expected to increase and globalization advances, we would also like to hire people able to work in management. Of course, we also welcome employees with specialized knowledge. Hospitality will be an indispensable ability for the food service industry going forward. We would like to actively hire and train workers with this foundation. Previously, we were diligent in checking a candidate’s experience specifically in the food service industry, but recently we have started taking skills outside that area into consideration. Our emphasis has turned to experience in other service industries, such as the hotel business.

In order to accommodate customers from various countries and to broaden the scope of our descriptions of food, drink and services; we want to hire employees from a wider range of countries and ethnic backgrounds. For example, it would be nice to have Scottish staff at Tokyo Whisky Library. Not only having knowledge of whisky, but also conveying the culture, history and ambiance of the region that makes the whisky, I think brings depth to the explanations we provide to customers and gives added value to our services.

In terms of employee careers, new employees mainly fill secondary roles early on, while those with more experience are promoted to wait staff and kitchen staff. We evaluate workers solely on their ability. We have some who have been put in managerial positions, as well. Opportunities have to be equal, regardless of nationality.

Do you have any tips for companies considering hiring non-Japanese employees?

KS: Even if there are differences in language, culture and upbringing, I think you will not have any obstacles if your organizational structure allows employees to deepen their mutual understanding of each other. It’s important to carefully share what the company needs to accomplish and what employees should strive for in their work.Also, in order to communicate better, I think it’s good to have supervisors who actively talk with staff, whether they are Japanese or non-Japanese. If our supervisors are standoffish, the staff will be the same. The focus of conversations should also make it easy for employees to respond. I try as much as possible to choose everyday, casual topics, rather than work-related topics. I believe that casual conversations become opportunities to deepen meaningful mutual relationships.