Entrepreneur

As An Avid Tealive Fan, I Volunteered To Be A Tearista For A Day

Most offices will have a resident bubble tea addict, and in my team, that’s me.

So when we were invited by Tealive to experience their training to be a Tearista for a day, my boss had an obvious choice.

As a frequent drinker of their beverages, I figured I would have it in the bag. I’ve watched them make the drinks many times. Surely I could do it on my own.

Entering into an F&B establishment, armed with my typhoid vaccination certificate and love of the product, I was ready.

Dressed up in their apron and cap, the first step was a quick tour, and then I was already thrown into the thick of things.

But even as a longtime fan, how was I able to mix up a menu of over 50 different drinks, with a potential combination of more than 10 toppings?

The Tealive team explained—to my relief—that they have the right technology that can help, and they call it the Kitchen Display System (KDS). 

Using Tech To Accelerate Learning

Their KDS has drastically shortened their training time from a month to 2 weeks and finally, now a very efficient 5 days. With the rate of their expansion both locally and internationally, it’s definitely an advantage to have such a short training period.

Even a new staff can use the KDS to see the recipes of the drinks, and the entire counter is organised to make it as easy as possible.

For example, a notation of “Topping [G]” means that I have to put in the toppings to the “G” level on the cup.

From your sugar levels, to the type of tea, to the amount of toppings that you’re meant to fill into the cup—all that information is available at a glance of the KDS.

A Place For Everything, Everything In Its Place 

What made the learning process very easy were all the labels. Everything is meticulously labelled, down to when the batch of pearls was cooked. I was surprised to learn that this is to mark them, because they get thrown away after 3 hours if they’re unsold.

Part of pearl preparation includes washing the newly steamed pearls in filtered water, to help prevent them from being too starchy.

You may have noticed that most Tealive outlets have a similar layout behind the counter. What I realised from my time there is that there is a very deliberate planning to the layout.

The first would be the row of tea dispensers in the photo below, which you’ll find in most of the newer Tealive outlets. Their positioning is part of Tealive’s continued efforts to enhance customer experience.

This is a small but significant change from the older dispensers, which used to be placed on shelves along the wall behind the counters. Tearistas used to have to turn around to fill up the drinks, showing their backs to customers.

Now, they’re placed prominently in front of the shop, and as a customer, when you’re walking to pick up your drink, you’ll see them and you get to watch as the tea is being poured out in front of you. As the staff serving you, I’m facing you, and this means that we can even have a small conversation as I’m making the drinks.

The dispensers aren’t just customer facing; they have a very practical use. Fresh tea used to last 3 hours with Tealive’s previous storage methods, but these allow the tea to last for 8 hours.

But having standards, fancy technology, and a well-planned kitchen is ineffective if you don’t have the right people in it.

Entrepreneurship As A Culture And Mindset

Although I was mixing drinks and serving customers (very slowly), I still had time to admire the efficiency of the other staff.

They seemed to always be looking out for gaps, and catching the ball for each other. One person busy making drinks and there’s a customer approaching? Someone else would effortlessly take up the cashier, with an easy smile. 

Unwashed shakers piling up? There’d be someone at the sink washing up. 

And all this was done without anyone barking out orders relentlessly, ala Gordon Ramsey in Hell’s Kitchen.

The reason behind this efficiency? All team members are trained to be all-rounders: cashiers, Tearistas, and Customer Service Officers. They rotate roles to fulfill peak periods and break-times in their work schedule, and all this is planned and managed by their supervisors. 

They’re not just trained to be Tearistas as the be all and end all. What many of them have is a goal in mind, thanks to the story of Khairul. I was told that Khairul joined Tealive as a humble Tearista. He eventually worked his way up, and was even chosen to be the regional head managing training and quality when Tealive expanded to Australia in 2017.

His story continues to inspire quite a few Tearistas as an example of what they could achieve in the company.  

Erni Merlis is on the early steps of her journey in Tealive. She’s been in Tealive for 3 months full-time (having worked part-time as a student in the past), and she’s been picked to be trained as an assistant supervisor. She’s still completing the training modules and she hopes to become an area supervisor one day.

Erni giving the customer’s drink a mandatory wipe-down before serving.

“I came back because of the opportunities,” she told me. “I learnt new things, how to communicate with customers. Daripada I tak tahu speak English, I can speak and be brave to berhadapan dengan customers. Di sini rasa macam I can improve myself, my skill, my knowledge.”

[Translation: From not knowing how to speak English, I can speak and be brave to face customers. Here it feels like I can improve myself, my skill, and my knowledge.]

Syafika, 3rd from left; Erni 5th from left.

Erni’s supervisor, Syafika, currently manages 4 stores.

She gave me a peek into the spreadsheets and numbers that she manages daily, and boy, was I glad my boss didn’t volunteer me for that.

Syafika laughed at my distaste for numbers, and told me “tak stress”.  Managing those numbers is easy, and is all part of the training, she said. She’s able to analyse sales and business segmentation thanks to the use of spreadsheets and formulas, and it’s also up to her to manage and plan staffing, stocking, and more. 

Armed with that knowledge, she could easily run her own F&B franchise one day, and she told me that is part of Tealive’s philosophy, to build and prepare entrepreneurs, and it starts at outlet level.

This growth path is something that’s in the DNA of Tealive, and it’s clear that the team I met have fully subscribed into it. Working there actually felt easy, a word that Syafika used several times. 

It’s not that the work itself requires no effort, but when you have something to aim towards, everything becomes part of the process towards your goal. And with the right destination, you’d be willing to do all it takes to get there.

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