Interview: Geeling Ching

Geeling is Operations Manager at the award winning Soul Bar and Bistro. 

This icon of Auckland’s waterfront celebrates its tenth birthday this year and an ongoing reputation for delivering the best of culinary experiences, no mean feat in the Auckland restaurant scene. 

When Geeling was offered the job of operations manager of Soul she'd never even been to the Viaduct. Judith Tabron had employed Geeling at her first restaurant, Ramses, in Newmarket a decade earlier but the sometime actor and television presenter had left to make her own way, even briefly flirting with her own restaurant, and was living in Titirangi and working in the film industry. 

The fine art of being a great restaurant host runs in Geeling Ching's veins. The lighting needs constant attention, the tables need straightening, the food needs to keep flowing from the kitchen at a steady pace, the cocktails must be quickly and expertly poured at the bar, the staff must keep on their toes ....

Geeling doesn't miss a beat and is there to fix, help or oversee. She's essential to the smooth running of the Soul machine. And she's also Judith's right-hand-woman, ensuring that the brilliant ideas for events, marketing and staff training that Judith comes up with are implemented with flair and finesse, down to the finest detail. 'I love the job of crossing all the "t"s and dotting all the "i"s for our special events,' she says. 'And I love to nurture and help the staff we have here as if they were my children.'

Geeling considers herself lucky. Her position in the restaurant allows her to spend time with people. 'That's what I love the best,' she says. 'I love the staff, I love the customers. I love suggesting and introducing new wines-' she has an excellent palate and is passionate about aromatic white wines, wines that perfectly suit Soul's food 'and I love the food here.' She'd walk across broken glass to eat a plate of oysters; just as well they are always on Soul's menu. Not surprisingly Soul's Bluff oyster celebration is her absolute favourite day of the year.

And what does this elegant, accomplished woman do away from the restaurant? Her other passion is running. She has finished several world-renowned marathons, including New York and Paris, and when the finish line is reached you can be sure she heads for the best restaurants. To eat, yes, but there's no doubt she will be looking at their service, their operations and their innovations, and bringing ideas home to Soul.

Geeling Ching’s Top five tips for being the perfect host:

These are Geeling’s top tips for being a perfect host, in any situation. 

It’s called hospitality, so be hospitable

A smile and a greeting, or indeed an apology should always be genuine. When you’re not genuine, it’s obvious. 

Learn to listen with your entire body. We all communicate with more than just our words and often a customer is saying one thing, but meaning another. You have to be able to read body language as well as listening to words. 

It’s important that you care about what you’re doing and about your customers. My perfect shift would be one where I can touch every table and make at least a little difference to each customer’s experience.

Be in control. When people go out for a meal they want to relax and trust the people working will take control of their experience and guide them through it.

There’s nothing worse than going out for a meal and being unable to relax because people don’t seem to know what’s going on, or aren’t in control of the situation. 

This was all summed up perfectly for me by the famous Chicago Restaurateur Charlie Trotter, when he visited a couple of years ago. This is something I think about often and always tell my staff – The customer is not always right, but the customer is always the customer. 

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