We are at the 24-hour restaurant at the Royal Singi Hotel, Kathmandu. This is my third time at the hotel, and twice in the past two weeks. The hotel staff greets us warmly with a ‘welcome back’. Since the workshop venue is on the 7th floor of the hotel, some of the staff interact with us and some curiously watch us engage with team building activities. We know them by name, thanks to their name tags, and usually address the women managers and staff as ‘didi’ or ‘baini’, and the men by their first name and a ‘dai’ or brother.
It’s the first day of our second intervention, and all of us are in the dining room. Abuzz with the client team, guests from India who are here for Pashupatinath or Mansarovar and international tourists, some of who are trekkers. We scan the room and sit at our favorite two seater table plum in the center of the restaurant. It gives me a great vantage position to observe. The restaurant is bright, sunny, and inviting, with a nice flooring and warm upholstery in orange and red. At a four seater table by the big windows are two Nepali men, engaged in deep conversation. Something about the demeanour tells me this must be the owner.
I get some soup, salad, vegetables and dal. The waiters are always pleasant and enquire on how we enjoyed the meal. ‘I really like the dal. Please convey my compliments to the chef. I will love to get the recipe’. The man at the table turns completely to me and stands up. ‘Hello, he says. Please can you give us your card so we can email the recipe to you. All our recipes are online’.
This is my opening. ‘Are you the owner? Yes, he says. Youthful and pleasant, he has a very pleasant countenance. He puts out his hand. And you are? Deepa. This is Milind. Hello Deepa, Hello Milind. He has a distinct American twang.
We really like staying in your hotel. We are doing a project with ……. They are our old and one of our biggest client, he says, he says. He tells us that he has lived abroad for 18 years. The hotel, founded by his father is 20 years old. ‘I went to Switzerland to study and have worked with top hotel chains all over the world. I spent a lot of time in the US and I was in Dubai before the downturn.
‘What is your name?’.
‘Sharing’ he says, making a gesture with his hands like he were giving me something.
‘S-H-A…’ No it starts with a ’T’ he says simply, with a smile. Tshering..
Nice.. Tshering.. I repeat his name. You made it your name so simple for us by saying ‘Sharing’.
None of us have our business cards on us.
Tshering addresses us by ‘Deepa’ and ‘Milind’ and through the conversation never misses eye contact and nor does he lose focus. His body language is engaged. We are as if in a conversation cocoon.
His lunch arrives and I suggest won’t he eat? Tshering dismissed my concern with a wave of his hand and continues without breaking the beat.
He tells us he got back 5 years ago to take over the business. The hotel is being renovated. ‘Are you staying in the new wing?’ The last two times we were in the old wing on the third floor. This time we are in the new wing on the sixth floor.
‘We recently renovated this restaurant. Its easy to get money to renovate, but its really hard to get the right people’.
‘Do you come here everyday?’
‘I am here all the time. My office is on the second floor and I am always walking around, watching them, meeting guests, eating at the restaurant. You have to be involved.’
‘What about your Dad? Is he still involved? How old is he?’
‘He is 65. He can never stop being involved in the hotel’, he smiles.
He tells us about how he is hands-on with training his staff in customer service; how he has had to struggle with finding the right people.
‘I waited 1.5 years for my sous chef to join us. He is a returnee Nepali like me. He was working in Dubai. He is a brain and has recipes from all over the world. If you want to eat something that’s not on the menu, don’t hesitate to ask. He will make it for you. He is a genius. A real brain’
‘Initially they didn’t want to wear their pride pins, their name tags. Of what use is this? We had to really convince them about the need to display their name. Today they are much better.
‘I teach them English to help build their confidence and communicate with guests.
‘Both of you are very gentle and soft-spoken’ and the staff are comfortable with that.
‘If any guest has a big presence,you know, or scolds them or shouts at them they make mistakes. They feel lost’, says Tshering. I have told them they are empowered to look after their guests, but they are afraid to take initiative and make their decisions.
‘50% of our managerial staff are women’, many of them work at the front desk and in housekeeping. The chef is still part of the male bastion. Most of the staff in housekeeping is women. Especially women. You see Nepal is a patriarchy. They are always subservient to the parents, husband and in-laws. They may be the manager here, but its very hard for them to take decisions. When things are going fine, its ok, but if the guest says the ‘ac is not working’, they will get confused.
In Nepal lets say a pipe bursts, there will be 11 people standing there on their mobiles waiting for someone to come to fix the pipe. I get down on the floor to fix the problem and now they are learning that they have to act.
We get some priceless nuggets from our conversation.
We can go on but we need to go.
We will try and meet before we leave, we say as we say our good-byes.
That evening when we go to our room, we find a plate of cookies and a bowl of fruit and a card.
Inside is a hand-written note by the manager, guest relations and Tshreing’s business card.