WORKING at Tatsuya, a fine-dining Japanese restaurant, is not easy, especially under the stern eye of its owner-chef Ronnie Chia, 49.
But Ms Coco Chia, 29, who started serving there when she was 18 years old, would not change a thing.
Her happiness, said the O-level graduate, comes down to one thing: How her boss treats her.
"He always says we must take care of internal members before we can take care of customers," said Ms Chia, who is not related to Mr Ronnie Chia. "But that doesn't mean he is soft." She recalls bursting into tears, sobbing in the restroom, and wanting to quit countless times when she got scolded.
But she stayed on because she was treated well, said Ms Chia, who works from 10.30am to 2.30pm, and from 5.30pm to 10.30pm six days a week.
Last year, Ms Chia, now manager, was sent to Tsukiji Market in Tokyo to see where the eatery's fish supply came from.
Profits are shared in the form of monthly bonuses, on top of an above market-rate basic salary of $2,500 for an inexperienced server to more than $8,000 for a senior chef. Career paths are also drawn up for staff. That could be why members of the restaurant's 25-strong team have stayed an average of seven years each. Four have been with Tatsuya since it opened in 2002.
Ms Chia joined the restaurant full time after her O levels because she wanted to make money. "At first, it was all about the dollars and cents," she said. "But then, it became much more than that. It became a career."