“Warung Padang” spreading wisdom of spice, one small plate at a time


Warung Padang, is a generic term for Padangnese style restaurant. In my opinion, this is one of Indonesia‘s authentic entrepreneurship in culinary. Traditionally, Warung Padang operates like a well oiled chained or franchise  restaurants. This phenomena exist preceding McDonald, KFC, Pizza Hut or any western brand offering greasy food.

Padangnese community known for their business appetite and genetically inherit tradesman attitude. While Islam influenced heavily to the West Sumatran culture, their philosophy transform into more down to earth principles and fairness. Although we called it Padang restaurant after Padang city the capitol of West Sumatra province, but most of the cooking style and classic meal available at these restaurant were native to Bukit tinggi, Solok, Payakumbuh and Padang pariaman. Those are the adjacent cities to Padang and rich in culinary culture. But the community seem didn’t mind with generic labeling, hence increase their popularity by sharing similar identity as Warung Padang.

Pointy architectural feature is classic sign for Padang restaurant, mimic their ethnic house “Rumah Gadang”

Rumah Gadang, the inspiration

When we come to any restaurant that has the title “….. Padang” (the dots can be replaced with WarungRestoranRumah Makan or just RM.  They all means the same: a place to eat) or with significant display of stacked plates of food on the window, you will get similar experience.

After you get a sit, no body will give you the menu card or even ask what do you want to eat. A man or two suddenly approaching your table with small plates of food arranged attractively on top of their upper and lower arm. Fast and almost acrobatically, he will transfer all the plates to your table. All of sudden your dining table will get crowded with mini plates consist of colorful dishes. No fancy dining etiquette here, just the basic rule: no double dipping, don’t touch the food with your finger if you don’t going to eat them, pick only the food you want to eat and pay the same way. Using both hands are recomended, than spoon and fork. If you think you want more than one small plates, you can ask the staff member. Those experience can be expected from all Warung Padang at all over the world. In the most expensive ones at five star hotel or high end malls; and at the wet traditional market in the middle of no where, they have the same structure.


Spicy aromatic dishes on mini plates (high end restaurant with air conditioned room)


Similar dishes, equally delicious on more humble table setting (nearby traditional market)

Structure in managing business, which emphasized in sense of ownership between the member of staff. Without mambo jambo management terms or economy fancy words, all of the staff share ownership of the restaurant. The capital owner is the one or several people who use their money to start the business. He is the first liner of ownership. The second one are the cook and cook assistant. These men (yes, Warung Padang almost always consist of men very seldom women), are acting the operational manager who direct and guide their business in daily basis. The cook decides how many produce and raw ingredients should be bought for a day, in the sense they also predict how much they’ll earn money for that day.

The third liner are the shopper or Toke, they responsible for buying all of the groceries needed by the cook and document the cash flow. Next are the Tukang Sanduak or the spoon man. Sanduak means spoon, so his job is about plating and portion. He runs the front part of the restaurant where all the food are neatly stacked and displayed for the customer. The spoon man must follow the direction from the cook about portion, in plating rice or other dish, or else they won’t get the income predicted. After plating in mini plates tapas style, the middle man or Bahagian Tengah will organize them on his hand in acrobatic manner. The goal was to be efficient and deliver all the food needed by customer. So minimizing the walking distance, walking frequency and chaotic people crossing between the tables. Cleaning the table also part for middle man’s job, since he is in charge of the middle part of the restaurant. The washer or tukang cuci are the starting rank and he have to deal with dirty dishes for a certain period of time. The cashier usually share the front part of restaurant with the spoon guy, but not all people can be selected as cashier. He must be proven honest and meticulous in counting money and charging people.

Just like any other high reputable company, Warung Padang management also got their audit regularly. Daily audit always held to calculate their gross income and compose menu (the quantity and quality) for the next day. The cashier can’t corrupt the money, because then the cook will know if his prediction on income are missed. So there are check and re check mechanism, mimic self audit activity in corporate live. Every three months or after 100 workdays, they held a big meeting. On this forum all staff member can share and discus about everything, mainly related to the business. People got promotions, sanction even fired during this event. Since there are no real employer and employee line, the staff will give their best effort and thinking to make sure their restaurant will make profit. Because, when the restaurant got profit everybody will taste the money according to their shares proportion. That means, the staff experiencing their own performa first hand through the amount of money they received. When they all as a team doing good job, the customer are satisfied and coming back for second transaction or more, they will get more money, and vice versa. In the end, Warung Padang also create a working environment with sustainable correcting system. If one staff member being lazy or making the customer angry, he must face not only the owner but the rest of the crew too.

make the phrase ‘an arms length’ felt crowded with plates

stacked of plates of food for window display, very typical for Warung Padang

See the display, find what you like and hear your stomach growling seeing delicious food

When the Starbucks highly praised about making partner relationship rather than traditional employer-employee with their barristers, Warung Padang already doing it decades ago. So, next time you go to eat Beef Rendang or Chicken Curry or Prawn Crackers at Padang restaurant, appreciate the people who serve you. They aren’t just your waiter, they all are business owner.









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