Din Tai Fung just spent S$70,000 on an Orchard Road apartment for staff to nap, get massages, and watch K-dramas

In the Orchard Road staff lounge – which has been converted from a rented apartment – servers, chefs and cleaners can rest, shower, and eat during daily breaks.
Din Tai Fung

Din Tai Fung – the Chinese restaurant known for its xiaolongbao (soup dumplings) – is trying new ways to attract and retain staff in Singapore amid a tight labour market for the service industry.

Its newest move is investing hefty amounts in setting up staff lounges near its outlets, so servers, chefs and cleaners can rest, shower, and eat during daily breaks – a first in the F&B industry, the company said.

Typically, staff rest in the restaurant’s back areas during their breaks.

Din Tai Fung opened its first lounge, located along Orchard Road, on Thursday (Jan 17). It will be used by about 150 staff working in the brand’s Paragon Shopping Centre and Wisma Atria outlets.

Another two lounges – near its BreadTalk IHQ and Junction 8 outlets – will be open in April. By the end of the year, the company hopes to have seven lounges, which will give around 450 staff across eight of the chain’s 22 outlets access to a lounge.

BreadTalk Group runs the Din Tai Fung franchise in Singapore. Its restaurant division CEO, William Cheng, told Business Insider that he first thought of the idea for a private rest area for staff (complete with amenities like WiFi, showers and beds) about four years ago, when the Government began introducing the foreign worker levy.

Expecting hiring to become more difficult as restaurants compete for talent, Cheng thought a lounge would help differentiate the brand and attract new hires, particularly younger workers.

The company said that staff attrition for 2018 was about 25 per cent – lower than the national average of roughly 30 per cent.

“Hiring and retaining staff has consistently presented a challenge in this industry,” Cheng said, adding that the lounge would help staff feel valued and cared for.

The brand wants to “transform the food services industry here into an attractive sector for locals to venture into in the long-term” by offering better welfare and benefits for staff.

Apart from offering a lounge, the company is also reducing staff hours from an alternate five-and-six-day work week to a five-day work week.

We took a peek inside the new lounge – here’s what it was like:

Din Tai Fung’s staff lounge is housed in a 1,550 square-foot rented flat in Lucky Plaza Apartment.

It’s a five-minute walk from the brand’s Paragon Shopping Centre and Wisma Atria outlets.

Securing a location in a prime area was one of the major difficulties in setting up a lounge, CEO Cheng said, adding that lounges had to be located within five minutes from the restaurant for the convenience of staff.
Din Tai Fung

Din Tai Fung found that it was not viable to demarcate a section of the restaurant as a staff resting area, so the company decided to set up its lounges in a nearby location instead.

The lounge cost S$70,000 to set up, and will cost another S$20,000 per month to maintain, CEO Cheng told Business Insider.

At least it will be in use throughout the day, as staff have staggered break times.
Din Tai Fung

The apartment has views of the Orchard district, which CEO Cheng said impressed many employees.

Prime real estate views.
Rachel Genevieve Chia/Business Insider

Apart from a dining area and sofa, there’s a nap room with mattresses for employees to sleep on.

Since the beds are shared, employees sometimes bring their own sleeping bags, pillows and even bedsheets.
Rachel Genevieve Chia/Business Insider

A small reading corner has phone charging ports, and the entire lounge has WiFi.

Employees can watch Korean dramas or video call loved ones.
Rachel Genevieve Chia/Business Insider

The toilet has a shower where they can freshen up before their shift.

Rachel Genevieve Chia/Business Insider

Din Tai Fung chefs cook meals for all restaurant employees. The meals are dispensed out of a refrigerated vending machine, which employees can then heat up in microwaves in the apartment kitchen.

Din Tai Fung said this would end the practice of employees having cold meals, since food was being prepared in advance, but meal breaks were staggered.
Rachel Genevieve Chia/Business Insider

Every day, there will be three meal choices – much like on an airline – with a total of 60 meals on rotation.

The bento dispensers were imported from Italy, the company said.
Rachel Genevieve Chia/Business Insider

Choices include beef rendang, pasta with meatballs, mussels in curry and Korean fried chicken.

For variety, not just Chinese food is served.
Din Tai Fung

There’s also a massage room where employees can get free massages from a masseuse, thanks to a partnership with the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped.

Helps them unwind after a shift.
Rachel Genevieve Chia/Business Insider

There’s a make-up room, where employees can get ready for their shifts. A makeup artist was conducting a class when we visited.

Female staff get a small allowance to buy makeup to wear while at work.
Rachel Genevieve Chia/Business Insider

There’s also a sofa area with a speaker to play music.

Rachel Genevieve Chia/Business Insider

The walls had cute decals, like birds and dandelions.

Rachel Genevieve Chia/Business Insider

Rachel Genevieve Chia/Business Insider

One of the rooms also functions as a classroom: Din Tai Fung gives its staff free English and Japanese lessons, so they can serve foreign customers.

The company is considering offering classes for European languages as well.
Rachel Genevieve Chia/Business Insider

Read also: 15 companies with incredible employee perks