Founders Series: Helping SAHM Rejoin the Workforce
Hello readers! In the second instalment of our Founders’ Series, we are delighted to feature Mr. Daniel Tan, Managing Director of Food Playground. The Food Playground is a social enterprise aimed at providing flexi-work opportunities for stay-home mothers and active seniors. Located in the heart of Chinatown at Sago Street, join us as we sit in Daniel’s aromatic kitchen for an interview.
Can you tell me briefly about yourself and the business ?
I started Food Playground in 2012 after spending more than 10 years in marketing, tourism and hospitality. I was thinking about a business that stay-home mothers and active seniors could benefit from. It got me thinking, what do people across age and races easily bond over? Food! Being an avid cook myself, I envisioned a space where the ladies could come to share their love of local food via interactive hands-on cooking classes while earning an income. I had friends who were stay-home mothers and some who had retired for some time who were looking to return to work. However, after being out of the workforce for a number of years, they often felt lost, nervous and challenging to find work again. This is where I step in – by offering flexi-work arrangements. They can choose to work according to their availability during the week, averaging 6-7 hours each session. Coming back to work, is not only for monetary reasons; rather, I see it as empowerment. Work returns them their dignity, confidence and self-esteem while providing financial independence.
Running a business in Singapore is tough, and it’s even more challenging to run a social enterprise as we also want to fulfil our social mission while making sure the business stays afloat. My role at Food Playground is the chief problem solver and cheerleader. So, I wear multiple hats ranging from sales and marketing as welll as finance, HR and admin to ensure we have a good pipeline of customers to sign up for our cooking classes, our website and booking system works well, our customers pay on time and our ladies get paid their salaries promptly at the end of the month. In other words, I take away all the administration load from running cooking classes so that the ladies can enjoy what they do best, which is to deliver ‘WOW’ cooking experiences for our customers.
I also spend a significant amount of time to help our group of stay-at-home mothers and active seniors in their journey of regaining their confidence and self-belief, as all of them are amateur home cooks and have left the workforce for many years. We constantly find innovative ways to encourage them to stretch themselves to discover their hidden talents!
What kind of jobs and skills-training do you provide?
The core of our business is our cooking instructors and facilitators. The ladies come to us with years of experience in cooking their favourite home dishes or heirloom recipes for their loved ones. The challenge that they find when joining Food Playground, is to be bold and step out of their shell to conduct the cooking sessions to a roomful of tourists or corporate participants. To be able to engage the audience, instruct and cook can be quite complex. We train them on scripted role-play, speech, lesson planning, cost and food estimation, etc. We have a pretty rigorous interview process to ensure that we hire candidates who are genuinely passionate about sharing their love of food and knowledge. The process starts off with a phone interview where we screen them for language skills, communication flow, reason for joining, availability and their expectations. Successful candidates from the phone interview will then proceed to an audition where they are given a list of 10 dishes and they have to pick 2 dishes to cook within 2 hours. Besides speed, they are judged on taste, food presentation, hygiene practices and class management skills. Successful candidates will embark on a 6-month paid on-the-job-training encompassing learning to use our kitchen appliances pre-and-post class planning, inventory management, recipe planning and food history lessons.
Our classes are divided into corporate and tourists. The menu for corporate events can range from a 3-course Western meal or a baking session. For tourists, we introduce well-loved dishes such as Curry Chicken, Laksa, Hainanese Chicken Rice or Char Kway Teow.
How do you help your instructors assimilate into the workforce and what are the working hours like?
We welcome everyone as a partner and stress on working together. We hold weekly discussions to evaluate our classes, try out new recipes and encourage the instructors to take ownership of that. The crux is that everyone contributes to the business, it’s not a typical employer-employee relationship. Our instructors plan a month ahead on the hours that they are able to commit, they can select as little as once a week or even daily if there are classes. Typically, they would need to commit a stretch of 6-7 hours as pre-class preparation requires 2-3 hours, cooking sessions are about 3 hours and post-class clean up and evaluation takes another hour. Our remuneration system is also flexible; they can take on administrative roles with a monthly payroll, or choose to be paid per cooking session they conduct. Sometimes, if they wish to trial a new recipe on our premise with other instructors, they will be paid by the hour they spent on the trial based on trust.
What is your advice to new entrepreneurs?
When you take that bold step to start your own business, it’s normal to face doubt, negativity and numerous suggestions from well-meaning friends and family. The important factor is to focus. Most entrepreneurs are tempted to take on too many projects all at once, and often suffering burnout. Hone your knowledge and product well first so that your positioning is clear to your customers. Be the best in what you do before you embark on a new venture. I receive invitations for collaboration frequently. No doubt it is tempting to jump into exciting new ideas, but I want to stay true to what Food Playground started out to be – marrying employment for stay-home mothers and seniors and introducing the love of cooking to the world from our Little Red Dot.