Cover A key lesson Marcus Low has learned after seven years in the business: the importance of getting to know one's customers

Table & Apron founder Marcus Low shares his thoughts on identity crises, satisfying customers and giving back to the community

Seven years is a long time for anything. Especially in the food and drink business, where eateries often go from open to closed in the blink of an eye. Table & Apron, a popular restaurant in SS20 Damansara Kim, is certainly standing the test of time. Since 2014, they have been delighting diners with hearty comfort food such as duck leg comfit, beef ragu, and of course, their trademark buckwheat fried chicken.

It’s been quite an adventure for founder Marcus Low. He began his culinary journey by running a successful supper club known as The Kitchen Table, before deciding to open a restaurant of the same name in 2014. It would later be renamed Table & Apron. Low currently runs the restaurant with managing partner Asya Tan. They oversee about 50 employees, including those at the neighbouring Universal Bakehouse.

“During our seventh anniversary, we’ll be featuring some dishes that are a blast from the past; these are the dishes that regulars kept requesting, and we have coined them our 'Greatest Hits'. Like that rock band that has stayed relevant through the times, we have brought back signatures that have stood the test of time," says Low, who goes on to share the seven most important lessons he has learned from running Table & Apron:

1 / 7

Running a restaurant is hard

Coming off a supper club success high as The Kitchen Table back in 2013, I thought I had a good idea of what it took to run a restaurant. That idea was immediately dismissed in the first week of opening our restaurant. When you’ve just hired a team, you can’t help but experience impostor syndrome. Despite thinking your food speaks for itself, you suddenly realise that it doesn’t, because you have to train the servers. It’s hard when it’s all on you, so make it a team sport, and keep remembering that what you’re doing is a marathon, not a sprint.

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How to navigate an identity crisis

When we first opened the restaurant, we tried to be something for everyone. We offered anything and everything under the sun you can think of, from cakes at the counter to a brunch menu alongside our current menu.

We called ourselves a contemporary Malaysian restaurant, so our guests took us for a fusion restaurant / an interesting café with thoughtful food / a bakery that was maybe a restaurant if you walked in / a Malaysian restaurant—but not. Bridging that gap was a lot simpler than we expected after inviting perspectives from our own team. Until this day, how we navigate anything else is by checking in with our team first.

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3 / 7

How well do you know your regulars?

Our lowest point coincided with a high identity crisis. We weren’t doing great, seemed headless at the time, and the team had poor confidence. Then, we asked ourselves how well we knew our regulars: Of the five servers I was working with at the time, we could only rattle off five names.

We embarked on a mission to be more authentic, and at any chance we could, address our guests by name while introducing ours.

That was a game changer.

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Can we be your favourite restaurant?

We all know that there is no such thing as "the best restaurant in the world", but there is that elusive mirage that you just might have a favourite restaurant. So we set out to pursue this narrative: "How do we become your favourite restaurant?" Did we remember the last meal you had with us, or the last joke you shared with us that other time? If we can do that, we stand a better chance of becoming your favourite restaurant. We learned it wasn’t so much about what we cooked or served, but more of how we could make you feel.

See also: The Top 20 Restaurants In Malaysia In 2021

5 / 7

Hospitality is a team sport

When you really break it down, each of us is only a small cog in the machine. A great dining experience is the sum of many small things done consistently well.

We've established key rituals that keep us on our game, whether it's pre- or post-service meetings, roleplaying hospitality scenarios, or wordplay sparring—these drills keep our team highly engaged. Having this lens on helps everyone take their work seriously as a craft, while also not taking ourselves too seriously.

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Having an impact beyond our four walls

It's a privilege to be in the restaurant business because we have the opportunity to be a for-profit business with a principled stance.

At Table & Apron, we seek to impact communities across different spectrums. We have strong ties with our SS20 community in Damansara Kim, from pitching in with water shortage supplies to contributing green compost to different parts of the park.

We've addressed food insecurity, especially during this time of pandemic, by working with like-minded folks like Joyce from Pit Stop Community, which serves the homeless community, and supporting local produce purveyors in the Taman Tun Wet Market like Alan from Robert Greens whose business has been impacted by the rise of supermarkets over the last decade.

See also: #OurBestShot: Why The Tatler Community Is Getting Vaccinated Against Covid-19

 

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We are only as good as our people

If you think we are in the business of food and service, think again! We're learning to appreciate every year what it means to be in the business of people. That means inspiring our talents to becoming better versions of themselves for the good of the industry and those around them.

I'm fortunate that I've been surrounded by people who are better than me at many things. In my prior life as a cook, I always wanted to master a craft. Although I don't cook much anymore, it has become our obligation to clear pathways for cooks to become better at their craft. That alone is a legacy worth having.