Complaints stewing at Japanese cooking studio

Customers of ABC Cooking Studio say they have been unable to book classes

ABC Cooking Studio says it is increasing the number of classes and extending customers' membership so they have more time to sign up for their lessons.
ABC Cooking Studio says it is increasing the number of classes and extending customers' membership so they have more time to sign up for their lessons.PHOTO: ABC STUDIO SINGAPORE PTE LTD

When popular Japanese cooking school ABC Cooking Studio opened here in April , customers rushed to sign up for its bread- and cake- making and cooking lessons.

However, after opening to much fanfare, the school has been bombarded with complaints on its Facebook page from unhappy customers.

The main gripe seems to be that there are not enough classes and slots are taken up quickly, leaving many unable to book a class.

Life interviewed 20 people and 13 of them say they have had difficulty booking classes online and also face other administrative problems such as being unable to register for an online account.

Others have also complained that the school's official website is poorly designed.

ABC Cooking Studio Singapore posted a public apology on its Facebook page on July 12, saying "...we are truly regretful that our booking system has caused so much trouble for everyone".

The full apology has also been posted on its official website.

The chain of schools started as a small studio in Shizuoka Prefecture in 1985. It has 134 studios in Japan and 14 in Asian cities such as Taipei, Beijing and Singapore.

The opening of ABC Cooking Studio Singapore on the third floor of Ngee Ann City in Orchard Road was reported in a Life story published on April 19.

Its 3,500 sq ft branch here is the first in South-east Asia and can take 64 students at a time.

Classes are hands-on and kept small, with one teacher to a group of four students.

The school offers classes ranging from cooking to cake-making.

Customers pre-pay for their lessons. A package of six cake- making lessons costs $450, eight bread-making lessons cost $520 and 12 cooking lessons cost $1,020.

About two months after it started operations, irate customers posted numerous complaints on its Facebook page.

People who paid between $450 and $2,700 for their packages tell Life that slots for classes get snapped up almost immediately when they are opened at midnight on the website.

Financial consultant Tan Boon Kian, 29, who signed up for six cake-making lessons in mid-May, says: "The cooking studio has signed up too many members and failed to meet the demand. It took me some time before I got one slot this month."

ABC says it has 1,470 members as of Monday.

Some, such as customer relations officer Penny Kong, 34, have resorted to logging on the studio's website at midnight daily to try to book slots.

Recently, she also took half a day's leave to attend her second cake-making lesson on a weekday afternoon. It was the only slot available.

She says: "They told us we could choose the slots and teacher according to our schedule. But because everyone is fighting for slots, you grab whatever class you can get."

Other customers such as Ms Samantha Leong have been unable to even register for an online account.

The 26-year-old, who is unemployed, says: "Without a membership, we cannot book classes."

She says her six phone calls to the school to seek help went unanswered.

Responding to queries from Life, ABC's general manager Amanda Chong says in an e-mail: "We accept full responsibility for the inconvenience caused and we assure our members that we are taking the necessary and effective steps to resolve and prevent it from happening in the future."

Such steps, she adds, include increasing the number of lessons, especially for popular time slots on weekends and weekdays after working hours, and for popular classes such as cake-making and wagashi.

It has also extended each customer's membership by a year, giving them more time to take their lessons.

Ms Chong says the school will be increasing the number of teachers from 25 to 40.

It also plans to relaunch its Singapore website to make it "more user- friendly". It has improved its online booking system, which contains some Chinese characters, by adding an "English version program".

But not every customer is unhappy.

Students and people who have flexible schedules find it easier to book classes as they can attend the less popular weekday slots.

Housewife Priscilla Huang, 47, who has booked four weekday morning and afternoon cake classes, says: "I'm all right with most of the class timings."

Almost all the customers Life spoke to, including those who have complained, say they enjoyed the lessons they attended.

Student Nick Delonge, 20, says: "The teachers go through the recipes with you step-by-step and guide you along."

But others are trying to finish their packages quickly.

Student Amanda Tan, 20, has managed to book four out of the six cake-making lessons that she bought a package for.

"I am going overseas to study in September so I'm in a rush to finish my classes," she says.

"The classes are okay, but are fully booked."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2015, with the headline 'Complaints stewing at Japanese cooking studio'. Print Edition | Subscribe