Friday, October 23, 2020

Five International COVID-ERA Fast Food and QSR Best Practices


Don Southerton Korea

In the Food and Beverage sector in general, Fast Casual, CafĂ©’s, and QSRs have been adapting to COVID-19. Many of these practices, in fact, can be adapted even in international markets like Seoul, South Korea.

As in many countries, dine-in has continued to see waves of push back. In some cases, we have seen new dine-in measures put in place only to have a spike in COVID-19 cases force local governments to again limit dine-in.

That said, many customers are also wary of COVID and have elected to either not dine inside or weather permitting sit outside. The latter has worked fine for summer and fall dining in many markets, but with cold winter weather, it may not be an option.

So, what are some of the best practices?

One. Early on amid COVID-19 restrictions, F&B brands who moved fast to contactless drive-thru have done well. In fact, a number of brands like America’s Chick-fil-A added additional drive-thru lines to cope with the volume of new business.

What I find as revealing is even months after we’ve seen restrictions rolled back a number of QSR have opted out of offering their dine-in option. Overall, we’ve seen a smart best practice is to add a drive-thru or even double the number of drive-thru lanes — the costs being well worth the investment.

For example, Taco Bell’s newest restaurant design emphasizes the drive-thru and limits human interaction, making it more suitable for the coronavirus era. Taco Bell is cutting back on dining room seating and adding a second drive-thru lane dedicated to pick-up orders made on its app.

Two. As many store locations were and may be without a drive-thru option, curbside service has worked well, too. This includes special curbside pick-up spaces and designated spots to stand outside while your order is being prepared and walked out to you.

Three. Pick up options. With remote online ordering and in-store kiosks, another great option has been contactless in-store pickup. Like in the past, as we’ve seen with pre-COVID Starbucks where one can order via the ap, then swing by a location and grab and go…many brands have now instituted similar contactless services — with a designated and numbered rack for self-pickup.

Four. Delivery. Although a growing segment in the past few years — home delivery has boomed. With an Online or phone order, meals are dropped off. Your orders are hassle-free and contactless.

Five. And finally, a shift to healthy alternatives. It is no surprise we have seen a demand for healthy alternatives. A case in point is Utah based, Roxberry Juice that saw strong growth in sales they attribute to concerns over health — many now seeing the importance of maintaining a nutritious and vitamin-packed diet.

All in all, and as I’ve seen in travel both across America and in Korea when visiting drive-thrus, using curbside, or in-store kiosks, the brands that do the best are those who recognize that even when wearing masks and social distancing that customer service still matters. In fact, providing a great customer experience, whether Singapore, Denver, London, or Seoul, amid COVID is perhaps the best global advice.


Don Southerton writes and speaks frequently on Korea and business-related topics such as the Korean Food and Beverage market. He is currently Korea Representative for a number of Western fast casual and QSR.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Intrinsic, Can-do and Hands-on

In a recent Seoul meeting with several former executives, I brought up a major Korean company’s move to Mobility. I mentioned that some I advise feel the OEM still needs to sell lots of cars and SUVs.  

Intrinsic, Can-do and Hands-on

Expected a similar “need to focus on business” response, but instead and rather a surprise, the senior Korean paused, then with conviction pointed out “They always needed a farsighted goal—best if it seemed impossible!”  


He then stopped to reflect for a moment, perhaps recalling past years dedicated as Company Man —before the conversation moved on.


Can-do Spirit

In my work as an advisor, I often share Korean core values, the norms and expectations to teams globally —those long associated with Korea would agree—a common drive to tackle the impossible with a can-do spirit.  


Even those entering the ranks in Korea soon acculturate and embrace these values—seeing what the company has achieved over the past decades.  That said, the values are intrinsic and acquired over time.


I find the global challenge is instilling what are intrinsic values to those outside Korea. More so, when someone is new to Korean business.  I’ve learned it’s more art than science—and needing constant, ongoing, sharing, mentoring and coaching.


Hands-on Solutions

First and foremost, when tackling a situation(s) I’ve found that it is essential to “sit in” at as many meetings and discussions as possible.  I’d add being available for one on one’s with leadership is also a top best practice.


In both cases. it is difficult to provide objective feedback, workarounds and recommendations without understanding the full context of the major issues. Not to mention, the need from a cultural perspective to track and listen for what can be missed if I only get a briefing. 


Second, and in light of situations that arise and well as managing day to day workflow and expectations, I’d layer on for western teams with limited experience with Korea, this can mean I provide norms and protocols for the team to best and most effectively communicate and interact with Korea—this may include leadership, HR, Finance and operation teams. More so, this matters greatly when issues may be seen as sensitive and/or urgent. 


For many we find the best model is for the team to see me as “ in-house,” hands-on, report to senior leadership directly, and be available when teams have a question or concern—always kept confidential and private.  



Thursday, October 08, 2020

The Digitization of Hangul, the Native Korean Language Script

Friday is a National Holiday in South Korea—Hangul Day.  This commentary will provide some insights into not only Korea, but their native written language.

Hunminjeongeum, the original manuscript for the Korean script language.


The Digitization of Hangul, the Native Korean Language Script          

The Hidden Driver of Korea’s Economic Success

Dr. Peter Wonsok Yun and Don Southerton, October 2020


We often see terms like “Miracle on the Han,” that highlight South Korea’s economic rise after decades of harsh Japanese colonial rule and then the devastation of the Korean War.


With only determination and its people as resources, Korea became one of the world’s top industrial, export-driven economies. In particular, the main contributions to this success story include the nation’s emphasis on higher education, as well as the role of government and private investment in innovation, technology, and R&D.


Looking deeper, what may be missed is the impact of digitizing the native written language Hangul. Crafted in the mid 15th century during the reign of King Sejeong. Hangul linguistically is seen as a very logical and structured written language script.


Jumping forward, it was in the early 1990s that a local Korean company, today’s Hancom Group, successfully developed a native word processing program for the Korean language.


As Hangul was created so that the common people could accurately and easily read and write the Korean language, so too, the word processing software allowed Koreans to communicate digitally.


Although the Hangul word processing software grew in popularity, by 1998, the company nearly went bust, even though it was considered a national treasure: the Asian Financial Crisis and software piracy had brought the company to its knees. 


Rival Microsoft which had only about 15% market penetration in office software at the time in Korea, offered $20 million to Hancom to stop producing its software and instead resell Microsoft's localized Word program. 


For a small investment, Microsoft would have wiped out their main competitor in Korea, one of the few countries in the world that had still resisted wide adoption of Microsoft's office suite.


When the news of the proposed deal offering surfaced, Koreans united in a national fervor and raised over $10 million through a campaign to save the company. 


In addition, the company’s near-bankruptcy brought the issue of software piracy under the spotlight. As a result, Koreans began to pay for their software and more began to adopt and use the Hangul software in Korea.


An Economic Driver

With the rise of globalization, and Korea as a nation leapfrogging economically, experts attribute much of the growth to the streamlining of both government policy and regulations. This was possible with a universally accepted digitalized Hangul well suited to the E-Government transfer of information. E-Government refers to a government that uses technological communications devices, such as computers and the Internet, to provide public services in a country or region.


This has also given Korea a strong competitive advantage—data management critical in the digital age.


Looking forward, South Korea today is at the forefront of AI and Cloud-based technology. That said, one may argue that many under-developed nations, most with their own indigenous languages, too, could follow Korea’s digitalization model. 


Globally, South Korea and key digital firms like Hancom are well-positioned to support this and similar new endeavors such as Mobility, EV and AI—as the Korean proverb noted—A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats. 


Sunday, September 20, 2020

It's finally here. The 2nd Edition of Korea 2020:, COVID 19 and more


It's finally here. 

The 2nd Edition of Korea 2020: A workplace in transition

COVID-19 and other recent trends.



I've updated the book to include the very latest insights into Korea facing business.


Required reading for anyone who works for or with a Korean brand. 


Not to mention if you look to do business with a Korean global company.. 


Questions, comments, and inquiries always welcome.




Saturday, September 05, 2020

It Takes an Insider

 It takes an Insider

Don Southerton
Working from South Korea over the past two weeks, we saw not only tightened COVID 2.5 level restrictions to curtail the spike in virus cases, plus two typhoons. Still despite the rain, companies advised employees to limit contact with anyone outside work, and others were asked to work from home, projects moved forward. 


One take away from the trip was a conversation with a longtime colleague. They stressed a past hard lesson learned when they began operations in the US. It’s also key to any business entry whether in Korea or America—"it takes an insider.” 


For my Korean colleague, he noted that selecting a local representative was a huge challenge. In fact, his Korean firm saw little progress even after they picked a local partner—someone on paper who, when interviewed, was seemingly well connected—skilled, but not a true insider in that business sector. 


A few days later in a private lunch with the management of a company, the same conversation came up—the need to select an insider to oversee their US sales in the tech sector. 


In both cases, they referred to me as a trusted “insider”—someone well connected, current, and well versed in a number of business areas as well as Korea. To better define an insider, I was once reminded that staying current and relevant is critical. It also can mean that someone out of a sector for as little as 6 months may be seen as having lost touch. In fast paced sectors like Autonomous, Mobility, and AI, that timeline can be cut to as little as 3 months.


All said, I am very fortunate to be able to reach out as needed to those “in the know,” in Korea, America and globally. Firms rely on insiders for quick answers, especially when a request comes from the highest levels of their companies.


In the best cases, this allows the fast tracking of projects. And, I can also be drawn upon when helping to reboot stalled and troubled projects, too. 


Here as always. To my fellow Insiders, many thanks, too.


Saturday, August 15, 2020

Keeping A Korean Project on Track

Don Southerton
Don Southerton

Question?  Don, working with Korea, how can we ensure projects stay on track amid changes and forces from outside of our control.

Answer. Great question. I will answer in two parts, in this posting, Part 1.

First, the short answer is it’s critical to stay aware and sensitive to not only the scope of the project but the broader circumstances that could impact the work.  One needs a 360 vs. a very linear mindset. In many cases, my work is providing this insight—honed over decades—more art than science.

Next, have countermeasures as options already in place.

To elaborate on both points…
Pondering on the question, it made me reflect on within the Korean workplace that the most savvy, long term staff and executives are both highly intuitive, sensitive and vigilant to all that goes on around them. They read situations and adapt accordingly. Little gets by them. In particular, they even anticipate senior leadership’s next moves. More so, without such a skill set few ever get to an executive level.

As a best practice, they also plan accordingly with countermeasures in place for all projects. In Korean we call this  miri miri…(Pronounced me re me re). It can be translated as preparing ahead of time and in advance.  It is in contrast to doing things at the last minute and then having to go balli balli.

Bottom line, look beyond the surface to gain insights into what may impact projects, assume some road bumps head, develop countermeasures, and be ready to execute quickly.

In Part 2,  I will discuss how even the best-laid plans can get blindsided. As always, need support? Need context and a 360 viewpoint? I am open to new projects and engagements, too.

Call, text, or email and we can discuss.