When customers enter any branch of Excapade they are greeted by the employees’ enthusiastic greeting: “Irasshaimase!” which means “welcome” and is the Japanese traditional way of greeting people. Since opening the first restaurant at Kiulap in 2002, the owners of Excapade have focused on providing customers with a taste of Japanese culture by offering quality Japanese food at affordable prices, in a comfortable setting. Today there are 10 branches of Excapade in Brunei and one in Miri and it’s been calculated that approximately 70% of their customers are regulars. From being a small 45 seater restaurant and the first to introduce the sushi train to Brunei, the continued popularity and growth of Excapade proves that the owners not only have an in-depth knowledge and understanding of how to successfully manage a Japanese restaurant; but also a clear insight into their customer needs and wants – which along with other factors, have enabled them to achieve a competitive advantage and tailor their strategies to generate higher customer satisfaction and revisit goals.
It was their love of Japanese food and the realisation that there was a niche in the market for this type of restaurant that led to the opening of the first Excapade restaurant. The Excapade story is one about recognising the right time, place and product and knowing how to leverage all three; and of course, knowing what the customers care about. Japanese cuisine consists of healthy, natural ingredients which make it a more nutritious choice; and unlike other types of food it has a delicate flavour due to the absence of heavy spices; and a lightness, because of the low use of dairy products and fat. To maintain the taste and quality of the dishes on the menu at Excapade the owner explained, “We concentrate on sourcing the best seafood products from the most trusted purveyors. And over the years we’ve developed strong business relationships with our suppliers. For instance, when it comes to seafood, the fresh salmon is air flown from Norway; and our sea urchin and blue fin tuna comes from Tsukiji Market, Japan. For sushi, we use Japanese Koshikari rice which makes up nearly half of the sushi and is the most important ingredient, so sourcing the perfect variety of paramount importance.
Besides giving customers quality Japanese cuisine, another significant factor which has contributed to Excapade’s success is its strict approach to quality control. Do the dishes on the menu all taste the way they should? Is the kitchen and dining room cleanliness always in tip-top shape? Do your customers get the same service, experience and quality of food whenever they dine at Excapde? The owners explained that, “Compared to other types of restaurants. Japanese restaurants are unique in their food and service culture. Because most Japanese food consists of raw fish and customers can watch how sushi chefs prepare and present their food, sanitation and cleanliness are of critical importance. For us, quality control is an ongoing effort, and it’s not a responsibility left solely for the restaurant manager or owner to take care of, it has to be a full-team effort. We conduct surprise checks at our restaurants to make sure that both the kitchen and the service staff are maintaining the required standards. For example, we have a score sheet for our chefs and if they get a low score, they have to re-make the dish. Each branch has a staff member who’s in charge of quality control and we do our own audits of hygiene, storage of stock and of other areas. We believe that the whole idea of quality control is more than an obligatory practice it is something you strive to maintain and improve every single day.” To support quality control, the owners showed us around the well-equipped facilities at their warehouse which include, huge refrigeration rooms and other spotlessly clean storage rooms. We also got a glimpse of Mr. Did, the Executive Chef busily at work, no doubt testing innovative new dishes.
One of the most crucial details in creating a business culture of quality and value is bringing in great people who are capable of and are committed to providing top-notch value on to your team. The Training Manager at Excapade told us more about this aspect of the business. “We currently have a staff of over 200. And we are proud of the fact that our key management team have been working with us for the past 10 years. Our Executive Chef, Mr. Did has been with us since the first Excapade restaurant was opened. We spend a lot of time and effort training our service and kitchen staff. We have a well-equipped training room which has models of all of the dishes on our menu. Our staff are taught everything from personal hygiene to serving, food safety, cashiering and handling complaints and more.” We asked her, “Why do you think members of the Management team have remained loyal to Excapade?” She immediately replied, “The owners treat us like part of their family and this helps to strengthen staff commitment. As well as this, the owners lead by example, they are hardworking and strict but they also have an open door policy which encourages employees to openly communicate with them. They also encourage staff members to develop and grow with the company.” In terms of managing staff, the owners admitted that “This is a 24-7 job and with so many outlets we don’t have time to micro-manage, instead we’ve made sure that there is a good system in place and we’ve hired people who we can trust to do their jobs well.”
Since 2002, the foodscape in Brunei has undergone rapid change. To deal with this new environment Excapade keep customers updated with promotions on Facebook and Instagram; advertise their Privilege Card which entitles holders to discounts; and the Executive Chef and his team are always thinking of new dishes that will enhance their menu. The owner said, “No matter what changes occur in the local food industry, at Excapade we will continue to provide our customers with the best quality Japanese food and service at affordable prices. We believe that even with all of the technology available today, word of mouth is still the number one form of marketing. And we aim to give our customers a reason to spread the word about their great Excapade experience and why they can’t wait to come back!”