Yang Bing-Yi’s business philosophy entailed two notable factors that ensured Din Tai Fung’s success. One could call them company secrets. The first was to ensure that every customer felt at home while dining in the restaurant. Secondly, every employee is valued and provided with benefits and a work environment that creates a sense of familial belonging in Din Tai Fung.
Unlike the Chinese restaurants that employ cheap labor, Din Tai Fung’s labor costs far exceed the average 20 percent in the food catering industry by as high as 50 percent. Din Tai Fung has repeatedly disclosed that the company is not listed because a listed company would be required to control labor costs, and that would limit the company’s freedom to take special care of its employees. In addition to the above-average salary, the company offers a variety of employee benefits, such as engaging therapists to provide emotional support.
A case in point, before each day starts, Din Tai Fung’s employees are asked to fill out a form to write down their feelings for the day; the manager then assigns tasks according to their moods. Yang Bing-Yi said that when the well-being of the employees is satisfied, and they truly feel happy, only then can they genuinely pass on the happiness to our customers. In addition, Din Tai Fung welcomes family members of employees to join the company to improve their centripetal force.
Among today’s well-established central kitchens, semi-finished food products, and industrial catering systems, Din Tai Fung has found a “moderate” balance between the traditional mode of handicraft and the larger-scaled innovation of Chinese catering cultures, such as xiaolongbao and shrimp dumplings, and between benevolence, righteousness, and profit efficiency.
Inheriting and balancing traditional roots with a modern enterprise
Yang Bing-Yi also paid attention to family education and inheritance, like the Shanxi people. As a result, he successfully nurtured the intergenerational legacy of his children. His son, Yang Jihua, has been influenced by his parents’ precepts and deeds since he was a child, and he is an expert in every aspect of the company, from kneading and rolling the dough to restaurant management.
Yang Bing-Yi was far-sighted in business and not overly conservative. So in 1995, when he was in his 60s, he let his son take over. With his father’s support, Yang Jihua became the second-generation head of Din Tai Fung. At a young age, he began to practice the standardized and refined operation and management mode of catering, which would transform Din Tai Fung from its original snack store status to a modern catering enterprise aligned with international standards. He achieved this promptly.
Yang Jihua built upon his father’s past achievements and surpassed them by utilizing modern technology to perfect Din Tai Fung’s products further, bringing them to an International standard and becoming a famous brand. In the past, China’s traditional catering industry relied on a mentor teaching an apprentice and passing knowledge by word of mouth. Hence, the standardization of Chinese food was a complicated matter.
Yang Jihua standardized Din Tai Fung’s dumplings
To address this and for Yang Jihua to break through geographical restrictions and bring xiaolongbao (dumplings) to the world, he had to standardize them. So he took a digital approach by translating physical experience and developing processes and procedures to facilitate quantification. As a result, the success of Din Tai Fung is now inseparable from its standardized production.
In Yang Jihua’s eyes, Din Tai Fung is not only a catering business, but also a cultural and creative industry. He’s even elevated the quality of service to the realm of performance. For instance, Din Tai Fung’s dumpling workbench is required to complete four processes of preparation, from rolling the dough to wrapping the xiaolongbao (dumplings).
Patrons can observe these processes through the sizeable transparent glass windows of the Din Tai Fung store. Visitors can watch cooks stuffing the fillings and sealing each dumpling with the company’s trademark 18 pleats done by hand. In addition, a team of between 4 to 6 people is used to improve the efficiency of handmade production.
The next stage is overseeing the quality control of the previous process. Team members can also rotate to maintain the speed and control the temperature of the dumplings to ensure their top quality. A thermometer is used for the dumplings and the chicken broth, ensuring they are heated to 85°C. As for the dipping sauce (sauce and vinegar), a precise ratio of 1:3 is always used.
Even tasting the xiaolongbao (dumplings) has its unique method — gently lifting the dumplings, moving them slowly, opening the window first, and then drinking the soup. Such a precise and standard approach!
Yang Bing-Yi has since passed away, but the Din Tai Fung he founded is still forging ahead as it’s passed on to the next generation. Times have changed, and the enterprise has been modernized, but the roots and quality, based on traditional culture, have not been broken. Perhaps this foundation is why Din Tai Fung can withstand the test of time and remain a leading brand in the international market.
See Part 1 here