Text and images by Sheere Ng @ Makansutra
Why do customers not see the kitchen in older restaurants? Why do waitresses escort customers to their tables only through a certain route, albeit a longer one? Why are cash registers placed at where they are?
Idiosyncrasies and habits they may seem to be but these are measured moves for better luck – an important element (besides having a good chef and a favourable location) of running a successful restaurant/café. Rather than waiting for lady luck to arrive, it is common amongst restaurants to seek religious and superstitious help. The common wishes are smooth operations, harmonious working relationships between employees and, most importantly, bigger profits.
Most Chinese restaurateurs, and increasingly non-Chinese business owners too, will turn to Feng Shui, a Chinese geomancy that relies on spatial arrangements to attract positive energy to the restaurants.
Things that Feng Shui masters will advise their clients include:
1. Placing the stove at a strategic spot, preferably not directly in front of the basin, freezer or toilet as they are associated with the “water element”. “The F&B industry is typically symbolised by the fire element. Therefore, it should not come into conflict with the water element,” says Mr Lim Eng Cheong, a Feng Shui master of Chang Consultancy LLP.
Another master, Mr Michael Teo of I Ching Feng Shui Consultancy, adds that it is inauspicious to see the stove upon entering the restaurant, which is why kitchens are traditionally located at the back of the premise.
2. Locating the cashier in the wealth sector of the restaurant to increase business volume and luck.
3. Arranging tables according to their shapes, as they symbolise different elements, says Mr Lim. Thus, tables have to be placed in harmony with the different sections of the restaurant. For example, it is good to place rectangular tables (symbolises wood element) at the southern sector, where the fire element is favoured, as wood supports fire (木生火).
4. Ushering customers through a specific flow or route to enhance the positive energies and alleviate the negative ones.
Like Feng Shui, Indian’s Vastu Shrasta is based on directional alignment and compatibility to the five elements (fire, water, earth, air and space) that the world is believed to be divided into. For example, stoves are placed in the restaurant’s fire sector, or Agni, to prevent knee problem, back pain and stress amongst the female members of business. The cashier, however, cannot be place in the Agni or the business will suffer.
Muthu’s Curry is one Indian restaurant that employs these basic Vastu principles. “It can be as elaborate as where to put your chopping board or to store your drinks,” says Mdm Veshali Visanaath, Marketing Director of the restaurant. “But because we don’t believe in this superstition so much, we don’t go into such details. We applied the basic principles because the older generation wanted to.”
Mdm Veshali adds that business at their Race Course Road outlet, where they applied the Vastu principles, has been good, but she wouldn’t give all credits to Vastu, as she thinks that the efforts they put in marketing the restaurant and improving the service play a bigger role.
Among Malay restaurants, Muslim owners are guided by their religion. Chef Aziza Ali, who owned Singapore’s first Malay restaurant, Aziza’s Restaurant, says she used to recite from the Quran in her heart before stepping into her restaurant. “As the owner of the restaurant, it is important for me to practise it to exude good energy,” she says. Her staff would also take turns to recite from the Quran before they opened for business every day.
Once in a while, she invites an imam and some elders from the mosque to conduct tahlil at her restaurant. The ritual is commonly conducted in Muslims’ homes to thank god for everything. Unlike her Indian and Chinese counterparts, Aziza did not pray specifically for better business but blessings in general.
Similarly, in restaurants own by devoted Christians, customers are likely to see a bible verse meant to seek strength and blessing, instead of revenue, in the premise. At Savour, for example, the verse “whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” is printed in the menu. Co-owner Mr Joshua Khoo says “it reminds us to serve god the best we can serve”, which naturally translates into serving the highest standard food to customers.
While table arrangements and prayers may bring certain benefits to the business, restaurateurs hoping to rely solely on divination may want to think twice. “I think the baseline is still to ensure that the customers have a pleasant dining experience, enjoy the food and want to come back for more,” says Mr Lim.