Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sun Tzu - War On Business Part 13 (Palate Palette)

We have come to Episode 13, which is the final episode of the Sun Tzu series, and it’s one which brings us to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; a country which has not been covered so far in this series. Here, James Sun meets up with a lady called Sun-Ann Wong (“Su-Ann”) who runs a café cum pub called Palate Palette. There is a reason for the phonetic play on the two words, which we shall see later! This café was set up three years ago and offers more than just food and drink; it also serves as a place for regulars to rest and relax. However, it remains small as there have been no attempts or plans made for expansion.

Su-Ann is a London-trained graphics designer and she had entered the restaurant industry 3 years ago to start up a café which boasted creative artwork and murals on its walls, in order to provide a refreshing concept as compared to other more “mundane” cafés. However, James quips that “standing on the defensive indicates insufficient strength”, implying that her business model is not strong enough for her to expand and grow the business. In the Food and Beverage (F&B) industry, competition is always very keen and margins are therefore razor-thin. Palate Palette was making a marginal profit but at the expense of Su-Ann putting in a lot of work and effort; and the fact was also that it was stagnant and not growing. Her partner, who had opened the café along with her at the time, had left and thus she has to handle everything (one-woman show!).

The interior of the café is filled with very creative artwork and graphics and this makes up the feel of the restaurant and helps to attract customers and patrons. On the second floor, a space has been set aside for private parties and events. There is also a marketing website with information on events held and Su-Ann relies on word of mouth to spread the news about her café.

All this, however, is insufficient to generate a critical mass of customers for her to grow and expand the business. In spite of all her efforts, there does not seem to be much room for growth, and anyway she has not really planned or thought about it. When James asked if she would like to make her cafe “bigger”, he got an emphatic “Yes”. The problem is how to go about executing a strategy to ensure growth is on track, and also put in place some monitoring mechanism to ensure she is not going off tangent.

James advises Su-Ann to spruce up the menu and also ensure service levels are up to standard, because in the F&B service industry, poor or tardy service would irritate and “scare off” customers, and through the ripple effect of word-of-mouth, this could potentially create a lot of negative vibes for her business and ruin her plans for growth. Su-Ann first has to ensure that her head chef is always present to ensure the smooth running of the kitchen; while she herself also has to be present to oversee the operations, and not play “remote-control”. Physical presence is very important in running a business, as it will at least prevent workers from slacking off or idling in the initial stages of implementing formal processes and procedures. As these catch on and employees familiarize themselves with them, they will become more efficient and are able to teach subsequent new batches of employees, thus creating a virtuous cycle of learning and development.

The key lessons to be learnt from this episode:-

1) Ensure there is proper control over food being served – During the episode, it was shown that there was considerable confusion over the food being served, and there was also the issue of the head chef not being there when Su-Ann needed her. Therefore, proper policies and procedures should be drawn up to ensure all the employees know how to react in the event of an emergency or contingency.

2) Proper marketing can greatly help in promoting a food outlet – Su-Ann realized that she had to resort to other methods of promoting Palate Palette aside from just word of mouth through regular patrons. That was when she hit upon the idea of using a website to promote her restaurant, and this worked well because the crowd which she wanted to attract was savvy in using the Internet and hence it was an appropriate medium for her to market through to them.

3) Have a proper theme for a café or restaurant – It is important to have some form of concept or theme relating to a food outlet, so as to differentiate it from other competitors who may be located in the vicinity. Su-Ann did the right thing by having artwork on the walls of the restaurant and choosing a very catchy name as well.

This concludes the highly popular Sun Tzu – War On Business series hosted by the enigmatic and charismatic James Sun. I would like to thank him for hosting this series and giving me good material for analysis in the form of thirteen enlightening episodes on businesses, how they run and how they can be improved.

I was hoping he would start a second season of his highly popular series but so far there has been no further news, so I guess readers will have to make do with this first season for now. Hope all readers have enjoyed the episode narrations and analysis!

Please visit Palate Palette’s website at:-


beginningwithf said...

Hi MusicWhiz,

I was just wondering, do you have any background in accounting?

Musicwhiz said...

Hi beginningwithf,

Yes, I am a qualified accountant.


PanzerGrenadier said...

Hi Musicwhiz

Pardon my blurness but what is the Sun Tzu series all about? Are you doing some case studies based on these businesses that you know of or it's a desktop analysis based on some course material?

Would be great to clarify as I must admit I am too lazy to read the background if it is available! :-P

Thanks much!

Musicwhiz said...

Hi Panzer,

The Sun Tzu War on Business Series is a "Reality TV" series narrated by James Sun. It was aired on Channel News Asia some time earlier this year, and there are 13 episodes in total. I must admit I was quite slow in writing down each business case and the lessons learnt from it, such that this series has faded from most readers' memories.

These are real life case studies of companies which need a breath of fresh air or a reorganization in their strategic thinking, and that's where James Sun comes in. He advises the entrepreneurs in each episode and enlists the help of local experts to comment on the business and how to improve it.

The reason why I find it fascinating is because I am analyzing businesses, and these episodes show how a business is run and can be run more smoothly.