How Swee Choon’s 3rd-Gen Owner Digitalises A 58-Year-Old Dim Sum Biz

Swee Choon Tim Sum restaurant has become a name synonymous with low sums, and it’s no surprise that long lines still meander at its Jalan Besar outlet.

The popular dim sum joint was founded by Ting Ah Swee and his wife in 1962.

The couple then passed the reins of the business to their eldest daughter Joyce Ting and eldest son Tony Ting, who joined as second generation owners in 1976.

Tony currently runs Swee Choon as a Managing Director, and his nephew Ernest Ting – who officially joined the company in February 2020 – is now the third-generation owner of Swee Choo.

Over the past five decades, Swee Choon has grown from a single-unit store to six interconnecting shopping units that can seat 420 guests.

Take over his grandfather’s business

swee choon founder ting ah swee and wife
Mr. and Mrs. Ting, founder of Swee Choon (left), Swee Choon restaurant in 1983 (right) / Image credit: Swee Choon Tim Sum Restaurant

When asked why he took over his grandfather’s business, the 29-year-old simply replied that he had always been interested in catering.

Also, the restaurant needed manpower so when his uncle Tony asked if he could join the business, he readily agreed because he was convinced he could “add value to the business. the company ”.

Ernest holds a BA in Accounting and Finance from the University of Exeter and a Postgraduate Masters in Finance from the London School of Economics.

Despite his financial background, he had always helped Swee Choon during school holidays or in his spare time, so the business was no stranger to him.

Although lacking in business experience, Ernest expressed his gratitude to his uncle who helped guide him along the way.

“He’s also open to new transformative ways to improve the business,” he added.

Innovate to adapt to time

With catering being one of the industries most affected by the pandemic, it’s no surprise that sales have fallen for Swee Choon.

During the breakers era, their profits declined by about 40 percent.

In phase 2 of the reopening, Swee Choon had to halve its catering capacity and shorten operating hours.

“Our restaurant revenues are down 30 percent, and our year-over-year sales are down about 10 percent,” Ernest told Vulcan Post.

However, the upside is that they saw a spike in sales of deliveries.

“Our food and takeout delivery revenues have increased from 15% (pre-COVID-19) to 70% of our total sales. We believe that this momentum will continue even after the end of COVID-19, ”he added.

swee choon dim sum
Image Credit: Swee Choon Tim Sum Restaurant

To reduce the losses from restaurant sales, the restaurant focused its efforts on online sales, digital marketing, and tapped additional food delivery platforms to reach more customers.

These efforts have helped Swee Choon’s sales of food delivery dramatically increase, from less than 1 percent to about 60 percent of its existing average monthly income during Breaker.

The COVID-19 pandemic has definitely stepped up their digitization efforts. Changes must be implemented for the business to survive, Ernest said.

When COVID-19 hit, it was a bit of a challenge as we had to make sure our operations could process delivery orders smoothly when dinner wasn’t allowed. We have successfully reorganized and trained staff to handle new roles, and we have also improved our online ordering mechanisms.

When reopening Phase 2 for catering companies, we faced the challenge of reorganizing our limited seating capacity. We have succeeded in solving the problem of seats and long queue by introducing a virtual queue system where customers can reserve a table anytime and anywhere.

– Ernest Ting, owner of the third generation of Swee Choon

Due to labor issues, Swee also exploited QR codes to improve their ordering system so that customers can place orders easily without downloading an app.

“Almost 90% of our diners now use the QR code to order their food,” said Ernest.

Additionally, Swee Choon also revamped their dim sum restaurant to include the addition of ordering kiosks and an automated system to send food through the shophouse units without the need for runners anymore.

Minister Chan Chun Sing, who visited Swee Choon restaurant three weeks ago, praised the 58-year-old restaurant for embracing digitization and moving online to stay competitive during this difficult time.

“Due to their ability to adapt quickly, Swee Choon’s income has now reverted to the pre-COVID-19 days thanks to the income generated by their food delivery business,” Chan said in a Facebook post.

Swee Choon joins the Cloud Kitchen bandwagon

Swee Choon was slated to open a second outlet in April at the Nex Mall, but plans have since been postponed due to the pandemic.

The central kitchen will develop a new range of frozen dim sum for sale directly to consumers online.

tampines food co
Image Credit: Tampines Food Co

He also set up a cloud kitchen at Tampines Food Co last month, which offers both food and delivery options for customers.

For those who don’t know, a cloud kitchen is an ecosystem of shared kitchens, storage facilities, and delivery infrastructure.

This setup allows business owners to reduce their overheads and expand their reach to more customers with on-demand delivery services. Customers can also benefit from lower delivery costs and shorter wait times.

tampines food co
Image Credit: Tampines Food Co

Area residents can also order from Swee Choon through food delivery apps like GrabFood, foodpanda, and Deliveroo. Previously, those who lived outside the Jalan Besar region could only order through Oddle.

In addition to the a la carte classics and value bento / meal sets, Swee Choon also offers two exclusive dishes at its Tampines store: Hong Kong Fried Dim Sum Platter and Hong Kong Steamed Dim Sum Platter. .

The best part about cloud cooking is that it requires a low capital investment. The idea of ​​the cloud kitchen arose because island-wide delivery was very expensive and we wanted to find a way to optimize delivery costs.

From the history of our delivery data, we were able to map the high traffic areas and identified Tampines as one of the sensitive areas. We have therefore decided to launch into the cloud kitchen in the East to better serve our customers.

– Ernest Ting, owner of the third generation of Swee Choon

Commenting on the food delivery landscape, Ernest said ‘cloud kitchens are about to be the next big thing’ as he watched many investors funnel millions of dollars into these ‘hub’ kitchens. .

It is true that cloud kitchens seem to be on the rise in Singapore.

This year, Jollibee opened its first cloud kitchen in Singapore, and TiffinLabs, founded by Singaporean billionaire RK Kishin, is expanding to 1,000 cloud kitchens worldwide.

And then: a second point of sale, perhaps a kiosk concept

swee choon jalan besar
Swee Choon Showcase / Image Credit: Swee Choon Tim Sum Restaurant

Asked about their secret to success, Ernest attributed it to their unique nightly opening hours. Before the pandemic, Swee Choon was open from 11:30 a.m. to 6 a.m., six days a week.

Although COVID-19 has shortened its operating hours, they are still open until 1 a.m. now (for its Jalan Besar outlet).

Swee Choon has become a popular spot for late night dining, especially with young people. We’ve also expanded our menu over the years, first to include Shanghai-style dim sum in 2007 and then Zi Char dishes in 2012.

This caters to an even wider range of foodies and their word of mouth recommendation has helped Swee Choon become the successful restaurant chain it is today.

– Ernest Ting, owner of the third generation of Swee Choon

He then gave business advice to his fellow entrepreneurs: “Know your target audience, have a strong value proposition and a solid product.”

I think to survive in this competitive industry we need to plan our business model to adapt to changing times and culture, hence our investment in a central kitchen and cloud kitchen.

Of course, the quality and standard of the food must also be maintained, which is why we always insist that our dim sum is made by hand rather than by machines.

– Ernest Ting, owner of the third generation of Swee Choon

His grandfather had always insisted on using fresh ingredients and handmade dim sum to serve the best quality Swee Choon dim sum to customers.

He also stressed the importance of treating staff well with good benefits, as they are the “main asset” of a company.

Sharing future business plans, Ernest said Swee Choon is exploring different models and concepts.

“Instead of a full-fledged, labor-intensive restaurant, we are planning new developments of a lighter, more scalable nature, such as kiosk concepts and small express restaurants.

Swee Choon will also be opening a new outlet in Serangoon in March 2021 and is currently exploring franchising opportunities.

Ernest also shares plans to open two more cloud kitchens in Singapore, with plans to open one in the northern area and another in the west.

Featured Image Credit: Swee Choon

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Jothi Venkat

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