Game On Pleasing Customers


Game On Pleasing Customers

Written by Debbie Young for Business Times on July 8, 2014
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What does game design have to do with running a restaurant? Very little, yet very much, according to Ivan Yeo of Jalan Besar’s latest dining spot, The 1925.

“Running a restaurant was never really a definite goal I was working towards, yet everything I’ve done has led to this,” the former head of a mobile gaming agency remarks.

Granted, the microbrewery-restaurant has only been open for six weeks and is still undergoing many changes: its second-floor wine lounge cum communal dining area (a large central table seats up to 20) was only opened this week, its wine racks will only be set up in a fortnight, and its alcohol licences are still pending before the restaurant can serve the light and dark pilsner beers produced by its on-site microbrewery.

Still, Mr Yeo concedes: “It’s a different kind of stress. I can sleep much better now.”

After dabbling in the design industry for close to two decades, from website development to interactive multimedia design and even social media marketing, the 33-year-old was last heading a mobile application development company, which he spun off from a larger group in which he was creative director.

He observes: “In the design industry, after you deliver a project to a client, you still have to continue to make sure your campaign or website works well, but it is then also left in the hands of many people, which makes it open to potential problems beyond your control.”

“F&B is a tangible business that appeals to many senses, you can see, smell and taste the food to determine its value. For design, most people only judge the final product visually, so you constantly have to justify the value of your intangible ideas,” Mr Yeo further muses.

At one point in his earlier career, he branched out into interior design with a local furniture company, where a part of his responsibility was to oversee the company’s F&B spin-off, a cafe in Tiong Bahru. It was also there where the first roots for The 1925 were sown, Mr Yeo recalls. A few friends had gathered at the cafe to knock back his uncle Yeo King Joey’s homebrewed craft beers post-dinner some time last year, and encouraged the younger Mr Yeo to run his own microbrewery. (Uncle King Joey, an aeronautical engineer by day, now oversees the four 600-litre tanks of beers on the restaurant’s ground floor.)

It didn’t matter to the Yeos that none in the family have any F&B experience. While there are indeed challenges as a relatively unknown name, such as food suppliers often wanting cash on demand – which results in a tighter cashflow and a higher chance that some items on the menu will run out – Mr Yeo admits, the upside is that “we will never know whether we are doing things right”. “This means we won’t do things the usual way, which is refreshing for our customers,” he says.

Unusual items on the menu include the crispy egg aglio olio ($16), a chilli and garlic-tinged spaghetti coiffed with wisps of the crispy fried eggs typically seen in zichar dishes, or the raw Canadian oyster shooters ($10 for two) that you knock back with a shot of Alaskan smoked salmon vodka and a sprig of thyme. In place of dessert, pick from a span of dessert-inspired cocktails like the gula melaka and pandan-tinged Zoot Soot Riot ($16) or the Ziegfield Follies ($16), which blends vanilla vodka, strawberry puree with strawberry ice-cream topped with parmesan cheese cookie crumbs.

Does he miss the design industry? “Instead of designing for customers, I am now my own client, I design for myself,” he laughs. “It doesn’t get better than that.” This gives him the full creative freedom to mull over the littlest details in the restaurant, from embossing sunken edges on the restaurant’s cardboard coasters to prevent water from spilling out, to gold-rimming its beer mugs, and custom-making the metal lamps and vintage furniture that kit out the lofty second floor.

“Game design is a lot about understanding consumer mentality and behaviour manipulation. We build a virtual environment and create stimulus that make players feel stressed or upset and act a certain way,” observes Mr Yeo. “In F&B, we are similarly building a restaurant environment – and changing factors such as lighting, music and pricing – but instead with the aim of making people happy.” Tapping on his social media marketing experience, plates are also intentionally plated according to a brand-conscious, Instagram-friendly template, Mr Yeo says. If it’s all starting to sound a little too Truman Show to you, well, Shakespeare did once say that all the world’s a stage…