When you meet members of the Asian Restaurant Owners Network, you immediately recognise they are different, they are young, they know what they want, and they are very busy going about getting it.
This impression is personified when you meet Rehan Uddin, Managing Director of the Asian Restaurant Owners Network. As a young restaurateur, the first lesson I had to learn the hard way was that finding staff to work in restaurants was far more difficult than I envisaged. I love food especially Asian food and as such I naively thought others who love food would rush to work where we could celebrate food together.
As every restauranteur knows, it’s not that easy.
So, Rehan spoke with other local restaurateurs hoping the answer to the problem would be simple, a matter of experience, it wasn’t. Or to put it another way, when asked the question all Rehan got was knowing looks, some empathy, and lots of shared frustrations.
Rehan needed to widen his search for knowledge and to try and do exactly what he sought out; associations that represented Asian restaurateurs nationwide. More knowing looks, more empathy and more frustrations, but no solution.
One of the many advantages of being brought up in an Asian family is that you learn to be entrepreneurial, you make things happen. Using his initiative, Rehan decided to look at the problem from a different perspective, HIS perspective.
Rehan knew what he wanted his restaurant to be and that required moving away from many aspects of traditional Asian restaurants and creating a restaurant that reflected a 21st century Asian dining experience.
Rehan is proud of his heritage but realised that diners want a great restaurant and food experience, they aren’t interested in anything else and why should they be.
He trawled the internet and spent most of his time on social media looking at the restaurants, restaurateurs and chefs that were commanding attention and finding many as social media allows people to make their own statements.
By far Rehan's biggest inspiration is Anwar Miah, Anwar LOVES Asian food FULL STOP something they both share that their life's mission in creating great Asian food experiences every day.
Rehan decided that if he wanted to make a change, then he would need to be the first to make change happen.
The first thing was to break the perceptions of Asian restaurants with diners, it had to look different, have a different menu, have a different service culture and a different way of communicating with our target audience.
By being different, looking different, communicating differently and feeling different to diners we were also a different proposition to young people, one that they became more interested working in.
The quantum leap then had to be in how we nurtured and developed young people, again we looked for inspiration from those in the industry getting attention .
Our first mistake was to seek help in developing young talent from Government funded education, colleges. Some of the people we met were interested and willing but were disillusioned themselves from Government cutbacks.
The idea to have highly experienced chefs teaching students to enter the world of restaurants was met with some enthusiasm, but as soon as we were at the point of starting something, Government funding was cut cancelling existing courses never mind starting a new one.
We voiced our disappointment after putting so much effort and energy in and getting no return on our Facebook page, this was and still is our home ground for communications. Asian restaurateurs from around the country who shared our concerns and frustrations joined our Facebook group, we were developing our numbers.
As we sought information and engaged with others, our social media following grew. There were a number of key messages that resonated with us and all were centred around nurturing and challenging young people to learn.
Everyone at Rehan's restaurant has targets and goals and we work alongside everyone to help them to do the best they can. Bombay Express KP for example is hungry to develop his skills and experience and we are equally hungry to provide him with the opportunities and learning to do just that.
Bombay Express front of house leader started here as a KP, developed his skills in the kitchen and then wanted to master front of house, he is currently. We work with our team to ensure they get every opportunity to be the best they can be, and from that commitment to them we retain them and their loyalty in our business.
Not everyone can rise to the challenge and we can’t always support everyone in every way to ensure they do, but we do everything we can, and we have provided some people who left with a second chance. If they have the humility to ask for a second chance, we have the humility and gratitude to reward that. people are paid well, everyone is paid above the national minimum wage, and we encourage people to work for tips through providing outstanding customer experiences.
What we learn we pass on through the Asian Restaurant Owners Network, mostly through Facebook, and other members do the same. We learn collectively and we apply that knowledge to running better businesses. Sharing that knowledge as a collective we compound and accelerate our learning process. What started a few years ago from need has become a fast-growing network of over 2,100 like-minded business people who are seeking and seeing the benefits of running a 21st century Asian Restaurant.