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Dining abroad? Firm picks up the tab if inspiration is on the menu

SINGAPORE — An annual budget for staff to wine and dine overseas? Sounds too good to be true, but such is the case at The Lo & Behold Group, which operates restaurants such as The Black Swan, The White Rabbit and Overeasy in Singapore.

Dining abroad? Firm picks up the tab if inspiration is on the menu

Betty Wong (left) and Andrew Ing of the Lo & Behold Group. Photo: Nuria Ling

SINGAPORE — An annual budget for staff to wine and dine overseas? Sounds too good to be true, but such is the case at The Lo & Behold Group, which operates restaurants such as The Black Swan, The White Rabbit and Overeasy in Singapore. 

The “catch”: Employees have to document their experiences through photographs and present three learning points to their bosses and colleagues. 

The hope is that employees come back inspired, as the company’s director of operation systems Betty Wong did when she tapped her budget — which varies according to staff rank and region — in New York in 2014, while attending an advanced management programme in hospitality there. 

“It’s just a short experience in terms of the food and service. And because we have the inspiration (from the dining experience), we’ll come back and share with our team. That will inspire everyone to learn more,” said Ms Wong, 44, who gets to spend S$300 to S$700 a year depending on the region she visits. 

In a New York barbeque restaurant, she was intrigued by a savoury fried chicken dish served with popcorn. She shared the idea when she came home, and today, a similar dish can be found on the menu at Overeasy.

In its report released on Thursday (Feb 9), the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) recommended, among other things, the need to help workers acquire deep skills, and for employers to make good use of the skills attained.

At Lo and Behold, grooming its employees is a priority, said chief operating officer Andrew Ing. About seven in 10 full-timers belong to Generation Y, and Mr Ing acknowledged that this group of workers wants a career roadmap.  

“You have to tell them what’s the purpose of working in this company. They also want to know where they’re going to be in a year’s time, two years’ time,” he said. “If you think about all that, you have to skew your whole strategy so that you can be successful in attracting the best.” 

Development goes beyond training courses to include coaching, mentoring and the daily tasks, Mr Ing emphasised. Much of this takes place on the job, as the company does not have the “luxury” of manpower to give staff too much time away for courses. 

But the company’s learning and development department supports both internal and external training for staff. Each full-timer has a training budget averaging S$1,500, and can take time off work to attend four courses a year. 

Ms Wong made use of her budget to pursue an advanced management programme in 2014, paying 10 per cent of the fees. “I think (co-paying) is very important because if I come up with cash of my own, I’ll put in the effort to study harder and make sure that whatever I’ve learned, I’ll put it into practice,” she said. 

A year after that, she went on a month-long sabbatical in India, during which the company continued to pay her salary. This is an entitlement that employees receive for every five years of service, said Mr Ing. 

“People in this industry work weekends, work late hours. They don’t always get the chance to do what they want to do … Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn a musical instrument, you’ve wanted to backpack to Africa, you’ve always wanted to learn a new language,” he said.

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