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Familiar Faces: Mon Tecson of the Standard Hospitality Group on the Joys of Giving Great Service

November 28, 2017
Familiar Faces is a series that seeks to bring attention to restaurant employees who have worked on the floor for several years, whom we consider to be unsung heroes in the restaurant business.

A familiar face greets hungry customers by the door amidst the hustle and bustle of queueing up at Mighty Quinn’s. Bearing a warm smile, Monselito Tecson of the Standard Hospitality Group—known for having established concepts including the said barbecue joint, as well as Yabu and Ippudo, on our shores—extends a helping hand to each and every person who walks through their premises, chatting with them as they fall in line and soon leading them to their tables. Even once seated, Tecson makes sure to go around each and every table, checking up on orders and making sure all diners are able to not only enjoy their meals, but to know that they’d leave with hearts as fully satisfied as their stomachs.

L: Tecson played a crucial role in helping open then-new katsu restaurant, Yabu, and still checks back on the restaurant often (“it’s my home,” he shares, and reveals this is where he prefers to have lunch) while primarily working at Mighty Quinn’s. | R: As we sit down for an interview, he opens up with so warm and welcoming a personality that the conversation just flows naturally (the author barely gets to—or even has to—look back at her pre-written list of questions). Though it is our first encounter, it feels just as though you are catching up with a friend.

Known to loyal customers and staff as the veritable “Mon” (“Sir Mon”, in the case of the latter), Tecson relentlessly attends to customers, always eager to serve and determined to make their dining experience complete. “I have a client phone book,” he shares. “There are almost 500 [entries].” He relays numerous stories of loyals, with whom he has established genuine relationships over his three decades in the restaurant industry, even witnessing their children grow up through the years. Tecson’s dedication to service is exemplified in how he goes out of his way to get to know customers and fulfill their requests, extending restaurant hours, lining up in their place (given the three restaurants’ strict no-reservation policy), or even personally delivering take-out orders when he can. “‘Pag hiniling sakin ng guest, if I can give, talagang ibibigay ko ‘yun (‘Whenever the guests send requests, I’ll really give it if I can’),” he says.

The service, tumatatak ‘yun sa isip at sa puso ng sinisilbihan mo (‘the service really makes an impact in the hearts and minds of those you serve’).”

Surprisingly, working in the hospitality industry was not something he had foreseen. Tecson graduated with an agricultural economics degree from the Wesleyan University of the Philippines, Cabanatuan, with the original goal of working as an agriculturist and helping manage their family farm in his hometown of Bulacan. He developed the enthusiasm to serve, however, from regularly helping his mom prepare food for the farm’s workers; “It’s God’s will,” he shares. Tecson would move to Manila upon the encouragement of cousins, getting his first stint as a busboy at a restaurant called China Pearl in Makati in 1987. A year later, he landed a job at then-known Makati bar Rhythm n’ Booze Jazz Bistro, initially as a server and eventually as head waiter, and worked there from 1987 to 1996, travelling to the Middle East from 1991-1993.

Tecson’s career continued to blossom as he moved to Café Juanita in 1996, working as dining manager under restaurateur Efren Boy Vazquez (who was impressed by his “aggressiveness [in handling] clients”). He would work at the café for eight years and build a steady build of customers of whom he would win over hearts—including a lawyer couple known for being hard to please, but whom he was able to get to warm up to him (and with whom he maintains a good relationship, to this day). “Actually, ‘yung masungit na guest, that’s the people I really like . . . ‘pag nakuha mo loob [nila, sila] ‘yung pinakamababait eh (‘I enjoy interacting with those with discerning personalities; once you win them over, they can be among the nicest people around’).” Tecson left the Café in 2003, but continued to gain experience working at other eateries, including the Saminas Cafe and the La Asya restaurant, in 2003 and 2010, respectively.

It was finally in 2011 that Tecson would settle in with his current home, the Standard Hospitality Group, working as branch opener and employing his innate love to connect with people as he navigates his way around the restaurants’ premises and asks, “How is your meal?”. Tecson played a crucial role in helping open Yabu, helping the group find stable footing during their early stages—impressing secretary and part-owner Gerry Santos in the process with his go-getter attitude and positive attitude amidst adversities. “Sabi ko sa kanila, ‘kapag hindi ko po naibigay ‘yung kailangan . . . wag niyo na po akong paalisin . . . ako po mismo ang aalis sa inyo (I told [the team], ‘If I can’t reach our target, you don’t need to let me go—I’ll be the one to leave, myself’).” He also carries this determination over with the opening of every new branch (currently, there are 13) as well as to ramen joint Ippudo in 2014 and Mighty Quinn’s just last year.

To make others happy is a reward in itself, for Tecson.

Though he still checks on the other two restaurants from time to time, Mighty Quinn’s is where he now primarily extends his service, captivating audiences—customers he had met from his previous stints, as well as new ones, whom he looks forward to meeting day by day. As a philosophy, Tecson values engagement—the art of connecting with customers on a more earnest and meaningful level. “I always tell the staff, ‘you have to engage, because if you encounter a problem, ‘yun yung magdadala sa’yo (‘that [engagement] is what will help get you through [it]’)’. “Alam ng guests na inaasikaso mo sila eh . . . nadadama nila ‘yon. ‘Yun ang importante (‘Guests can feel it when they’re being taken care of, and that’s what’s important’).” Praised by CEO John Concepcion for his PR abilities as well as his “malasakit”—the uniquely Filipino word often translated as one’s having “empathy” or “concern” (albeit to a deeper degree than the said English words exhibit), this pays off through the numerous testimonials he has received over the years: one client applauded the way he is able to “run a tight ship despite it being a heavy ship to manage, [thanks to his] fantastic leadership [style]”), and his fellow personnel have been told of being “lucky to have [Mon] in the front”. Online, too, you’ll see people praising him across blogs, review sites, and social media posts. He shows us a screenshot of an Instagram post by a customer whom he had once helped get seats for at Ippudo (despite the restaurant being full and initially being seated at a tight spot, Tecson went out of his way to move them to better tables with more wiggle room once the coast was clearer and continued to check back on them afterwards), praising him for his “sincere” way of delivering “amazing” service.

Moreover, Mon extends the same kind of hospitality to the staff members he manages, caring for them and taking the opportunity to pass on insights and lessons along the way. Likewise, the staff members look up to him as a leader and parental figure of sorts. “He’s strict, pero talagang mabait (‘but truly kind-hearted’),” shares Aira Panuelos, cashier and service representative at the Megamall branch of Yabu. “Pagagalitan kami ‘pag may mali kami, pero afterwards, ipapa-realize niya na nagkamali kami para matuto kami (‘He’d reprimand us when we slip up, but helps us learn from it afterwards’).” To them, Tecson teaches the value of learning from one’s mistakes, urging them to first take action as needed and then helping them examine how they can improve. And in the face of customer complaints, Tecson advises them not to be afraid: “Diyan kayo matututo (‘That’s how you learn’).”

I don’t have any plans to retire . . . I am blessed because for me, I’m not working, this is my life [and] my passion.”

Juggling the work of overseeing all the group’s restaurant’s branches while continuing to take care of customers and staff, Tecson’s job is no easy feat—but the key to his success may be the way he organically values human relationships. Tecson considers his job not as a ‘job’ with external obligations, but as a means by which he inherently gains a sense of personal fulfilment. “Ang sarap kasi ng pakiramdam na [may] nakilala ka tapos umalis siya rito ng masaya (‘It feels so good to get to know somebody, and have them leave feeling satisfied’),” he explains. To make others happy is a reward in itself, for Tecson, and with that, he looks forward to each new opportunity that comes. “Everyday is a new day for me,” he says with conviction. “Everyday when I wake up in the morning . . . maybe Ma’am Regine will come, maybe Sir John will come. ‘Yun [mismo] ‘yung nakapag-papagaan at nakakapagpasaya sa akin (‘That in itself is what consoles me and what makes me happy’).” He excuses himself briefly to greet a customer on his way out (‘Happy to have you back, see you again po, Ma’am!’) before turning back to us with a grin. “That is my reward.”

Patricia Baes SEE AUTHOR Patricia Baes Trish thinks too much about everything—truth, existence.....and what’s on her plate. Her ongoing quest for a better relationship with food has led to a passion for cooking, gastronomy, and a newfound interest in its politics. She is a cheapskate in other aspects of her life, preferring to use her savings on specialty vinegars and degustation menus. While she admits to eating out too much, cooking and baking remain her first love, and she's always looking for quirky new ways to use up seasonal produce. Thanks to her obsession with (unnecessarily) making everything from scratch, she is now desperate to clear her fridge full of homemade condiments. She dreams of perfecting the art of making soufflé with her crappy toaster oven.
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