Words by Hoe Ziqian
Lao Huo Tang started off as a humble hawker stall in Chinatown Complex in 2008. It prides itself on serving nourishing Chinese soups brewed only from the freshest vegetables, lean meat or pork ribs and flavoured only by natural ingredients.
When the operations gradually outgrew the confines of the hawker stall, Lao Huo Tang took the plunge and ventured into the restaurant business in 2011. The larger capacity allowed the team to unleash their culinary creativity, helping them stay true to their mission of bringing high quality yet affordable Cantonese-style soups and traditional homecooked dishes to its customer base.
The menu at Lao Huo Tang is diverse and caters to the wide-ranging tastes of the everyday folk. Some of the more popular soups include Lotus Root Peanut Soup, Buddha Jump Over the Wall and Herbal Black Chicken Soup with Dried Scallop, alongside traditional homecooked favourites like Coca-Cola Mid Joint Wing, Marmite Chicken and Pig Trotters with Vinegar.
As Lao Huo Tang offers a wide selection of soup options on its menu, its workers have to man multiple pots of hot soup each day. This makes the overall working environment very hot and uncomfortable, especially for the older workers.
The food items were also manually prepared, so the older workers had to rely on their memory to ensure that the cooking time and conditions are maintained religiously. Temperature control was key to ensuring consistent food quality, but this was heavily dependent on the experience of the workers due to the traditional methods of cooking employed by Lao Huo Tang.
Concerned by the less than ideal working conditions and spurred on by the need to find a more sustainable operating model, the team at Lao Huo Tang sought out a collaboration with NTUC’s Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) through the WorkPro Job Redesign initiative, to explore ways to evaluate and redesign their current processes.
One of the key initiatives was to introduce a series of automatic energy saving induction cookers which would make light work of the cooking process for Lao Huo Tang’s signature soups. With the implementation of automatic energy saving commercial induction cooker and automatic induction soup cooker, the desired temperature and cooking duration can be pre-set by a single worker.
Once the pre-set time has lapsed, the cooking process will stop, and the cooker will automatically initiate the warmer function. This helps to minimise chances of overcooking and frees up the time of workers, who previously had to keep a watchful eye on all the soup pots. Without the burden of monitoring the soups, these workers can now be redeployed to more value added tasks within the restaurant.
The soups used to take a long time to boil using the traditional gas cooking method but Lao Huo Tang estimates that productivity has improved by around 25% simply by utilising the induction cookers purchased with e2i’s support.
With the automatic energy saving commercial kitchen cookers, the older workers on Lao Huo Tang’s workforce no longer need to light gas stove manually. The automated ignition makes the whole process much safer for these older workers.
The unique design of the cookers contains the heat from the flame within the ream of the stove, greatly reducing the emission of heat to the surrounding environment. This ensures that the ambient temperature is kept in check, making the whole working environment cooler and more comfortable for older workers.
Tapping on the vast industry knowledge and network of e2i, the team at Lao Huo Tang was able to improve the working conditions for its workers and come up with simple but innovative ways to improve its productivity without sacrificing its food quality. The company was also able to channel some of the productivity gains back to its older workers, as 18 local workers aged 50 years and above were able to enjoy a wage increment between $80 to $100.
At the end of the day, both Lao Huo Tang and its workers have benefitted from the WorkPro Job Redesign initiative. Their success story clearly demonstrates that productivity initiatives can be subtle but yet deliver significant impact. All it takes is a keen eye for detail and a deep understanding of the industry, both of which are key traits of the industry-focused team at e2i.