GAN GUOYI

Co-founder and di­rec­tor of Jig­ger & Pony Group CHANGING THE WAY WE UNWIND

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Five years as a Sin­ga­pore Air­lines (SIA) flight at­ten­dant taught Gan Guoyi a lot about the art of hos­pi­tal­ity. “When I think back to my train­ing at SIA, I re­alise that hos­pi­tal­ity is not about telling staff what to do, but in­spir­ing them so they want to de­liver that ex­pe­ri­ence for the cus­tomer,” she shares. For in­stance, as a trainee, she was taught to greet ev­ery­one she saw at the SIA Train­ing Cen­tre, from the se­cu­rity guard to the lunch lady. Th­ese days, she in­structs her staff at cock­tail bar Jig­ger & Pony to greet each and ev­ery cus­tomer when they ar­rive, and bid them farewell when they leave. “Cre­at­ing that connection with the cus­tomer starts from the mo­ment you first catch their eye and give them a warm wel­come. All th­ese lit­tle things are in­tan­gi­ble but they make a dif­fer­ence.” That sense of connection is key to the kind of ex­pe­ri­ence she wants her cus­tomers to have. Jig­ger & Pony opened in 2012, and Guoyi and her hus­band In­dra Kantono have since fol­lowed that first en­deav­our with rum-and-nosh joint Su­garhall, vin­tage-style cock­tail bar Gib­son, whisky and cock­tail bar The Flag­ship and seafood restau­rant Hump­back. What unites all th­ese con­cepts is the cou­ple’s as­pi­ra­tion to cre­ate “places in the com­mu­nity where peo­ple can find com­fort, forge friend­ships and share hap­pi­ness”, she says. Es­tab­lish­ing this mini em­pire of food and bev­er­age es­tab­lish­ments has not al­ways been smooth sail­ing. Less than a year af­ter start­ing Jig­ger & Pony, Guoyi found her­self “break­ing down and cry­ing in a park”, telling In­dra that she did not want to do this any­more. “It was much harder than I ex­pected,” she says. “I’ve never man­aged peo­ple be­fore, and I was re­ally burnt out.” Her hus­band was sup­port­ive, telling her they could al­ways opt to not re­new the lease for the bar. What kept her go­ing was the thought of her small but dogged team of staff. “When some­one agrees to work for you, they are putting their trust in you that you will do what it takes to keep this com­pany alive. The staff were re­ally com­mit­ted and they had sac­ri­ficed a lot for us, so if I had given up, I would not just be giv­ing up on my­self.” So she took a deep breath, and de­cided to sol­dier on, this time with a new plan for man­power man­age­ment. The F&B in­dus­try in Sin­ga­pore is no­to­ri­ous for its high turnover rate, with staff tend­ing to stay with one estab­lish­ment for about six months to a year. By im­ple­ment­ing a sys­tem fo­cused on per­for­mance re­views, men­tor­ship, ex­ter­nal cour­ses and ca­reer pro­gres­sion, Guoyi has been able to im­prove those num­bers for her busi­nesses, where staff now stay on for up to four years. “We have pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment goals for ev­ery­one and help peo­ple to struc­ture their learn­ing. That’s pretty much ab­sent in our in­dus­try, un­less you work for a ho­tel, and even then it can be quite stag­nant,” she ex­plains. “Twice a year, we sit down for hours to fig­ure out what each per­son needs to learn in the next cy­cle of his or her time here. It takes up a lot of our time, but we be­lieve in­vest­ment in our peo­ple is an in­vest­ment in our busi­ness.” That in­vest­ment has paid off hand­somely. Her es­tab­lish­ments have built up a loyal clien­tele of ap­pre­cia­tive reg­u­lars, and this year, Jig­ger & Pony, Gib­son and Su­garhall made it to the list of Asia’s 50 Best Bars. This marked all three bars’ sec­ond con­sec­u­tive ap­pear­ance in this pres­ti­gious rank­ing. “That’s the re­sult of amaz­ing work from our team!” Guoyi says proudly. She is equally proud of the fact that a total of 13 Sin­ga­pore bars made the cut for Asia’s 50 Best Bars this year. “That speaks a lot for our in­dus­try. When we first opened, there were very few bars fo­cus­ing on high-qual­ity, high­craft cock­tails, and our reg­u­lars had to teach taxi driv­ers how to get to Jig­ger & Pony in Amoy Street. Now Amoy Street has be­come a des­ti­na­tion, with so many hip restau­rants and bars where you can hang out,” she en­thuses. “The bar in­dus­try in Sin­ga­pore has grown so quickly be­cause ev­ery­body is work­ing to­gether, and each estab­lish­ment has its own style of do­ing things. We are all very good friends, and com­pe­ti­tion is healthy. It makes ev­ery­one bet­ter.”

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