By Angela Ng and Gloria Lee
Gingko House offers a unique dining experience – silver-haired waiters and waitresses serve you scrumptious dishes cooked from colourful organic farm products grown by the restaurant itself.
Many senior citizens have no choice but to retire after reaching the statutory retirement age but they still want to work and earn an income to cover their living expenses. Gingko House, a social enterprise advocating senior employment, fulfils their hopes of leading a fruitful working life after retirement.
In 2006, a group of elderly home volunteers founded Gingko House when they realised how depressed senior citizens can become when facing difficulties in getting re-employed. It is the first restaurant in Hong Kong to “lead by example” in senior employment.
As of today, 2,000 seniors have been employed by Gingko House. The group is headquartered at Fo Tan, with four restaurants throughout Hong Kong.
Senior employee George Fung Man-chun, 72, feels that maintaining a career is essential for leading a meaningful life because it helps him keep his mind clear, maintain his physical health and stay relevant to society.
When Fung had to retire from his previous career, he felt at a loss rather than excited. Luckily, Gingko House gave him the chance to start a new page in life. “Playing mahjong may be entertaining to some people, but working is my kind of entertainment,” Fung says.
Fung’s colleague, Jessica Siu Sui-ching, 72, describes how employment at Gingko House changed her life. “I’m more confident and happier now as I regard getting hired in my sixties as an accomplishment,” says Sin. “I used to think I was useless as no one would hire me and I have no contribution to make to society anymore.”
The former hotel manager may walk with a limp, but it has not stopped her from taking up different roles during her eight years at the restaurant.
In consideration of the physical limitations of its senior employees, Gingko House runs a half-shift system to allow employees to work for four to six hours per day. The restaurant encourages senior employees to work in different positions as long as they can handle the jobs.
Among all her duties, Siu enjoys working as a cashier and customer service ambassador the most. She says she likes interacting with customers, which is just what she used to do when she worked as a hotel manager.
Siu says customers and younger colleagues are surprised but delighted to see senior citizens working. Once, when Siu was serving at an event for the University of Hong Kong, students came up to her, spoke respectfully to her, and invited her to take photos with them.
However, Gingko House’s business development manager Kenneth Choi Man-kin says he does not wish to make senior employment a gimmick to attract customers. He thinks the quality of service and food are also important to get customers to visit the restaurant again. “We want to achieve a win-win situation,” says Choi. “Customers, shop owners and senior citizens can all benefit.”
Currently, Gingko House operates a “farm to table, table to home” concept. It has its own organic farm, and customers can buy organic farm products at its restaurants. The social enterprise aims to continue diversifying its business in the hope of employing more senior citizens.