Once again, many apologies for the hiatus. I certainly hope that it won’t happen as frequently as before.
Now… I’d like to begin by letting you know that this will be a rather wordy and lengthy post. You have been warned.
Recently (or rather, very often), there has been debate over service standards and manpower shortage in food and beverage (F&B) institutions in Singapore. Almost everybody I know have something to say about it; be it via social media websites and/or casual conversations. More often than not, such comments seem to come from those not within the F&B industry. Even if there are such comments coming from F&B institutions, they usually come through “official” sources such as statements from a company’s website while others derive from channels such as newspaper columns/forums and research studies/surveys.
One of the more severe issues; is with regards to manpower or labour shortage in the F&B industry. Some blame ludicrous government regulations, while others point the finger at foreign workers (who are always seen as those looking to earn quick money, then head back to their motherland once they’ve accumulated enough). Whatever it is, I believe that every problem should have its solution.
For a start, I’ll list the demographics of Singapore F&B service personnel:
- Students – who are usually the bulk of part-time/casual labour staff (drop-outs are also common)
- Foreign workers (another significant percentage of the total service strength)
- Locals who have F&B/hospitality qualifications (they are rare breed, as a certain percentage prefer to work overseas)
- Above middle-age/close to retirement age/retirees (a.k.a. “aunties” & “uncles“)
- Ex-convicts (one of the few industries who are willing to “give a second chance” and “help them to integrate back into the society and working world”)
- Low-IQ individuals (fast food chains are pretty big in the “we don’t discriminate against anyone who wishes to seek employment” practice)
From my experience and observations, I’ve come up with a list of issues that seem to plague the local F&B service industry; some of which are also reasons why people shy away from such jobs. In no particular order (which explains the jumpy nature of the points), here’s the list;
- Work hours are long (12 – 14 hour shifts are normal, not to mention that much of it is done standing and constantly pacing back and forth in a small environment)
- Customers tend to be obnoxious, rude and demanding. Service staff are often looked down on and treated and seen as lowly-skilled/lowly-educated individuals. Getting mistreated, threatened & yelled/cursed at is very common.
- Often considered as a “job with no future/direction” or “just a job which pays the bills”. (read previous point)
- For part-timers, some reasons for working in the F&B service industry include:
- looking to earn extra pocket money during school holidays/term breaks (mainly students)
- waiting to get enlisted for National Service (only applicable to Singaporean males)
- using it as a stepping stone to lengthen their resume (familiar with the term “prior experience required” in job ads?)
- filling up vacancies at places which require more manpower during festive/peak periods (casual/temporary labour)
- No sense of pride, ownership and/or commitment towards the job (read #2, #3 & #4)
- High overhead costs = minimal profits = less pay for staff = less motivation = low morale = poor service (some eateries take a drastic measure by passing on their high overhead costs onto their customers and charging more for their products)
- Owners/managers tend to favour foreign workers because of their willingness to be paid less on the job (loosely linked to the previous point)
- Sexual harassment (physically and verbally) by male staff on their female counterparts are very common; vice versa not usually heard of
- No minimum wage rule/enforcement; therefore employers are free to set how much (or how little) each staff member is paid
- Staff are not properly trained and equipped with knowledge about the products being offered (e.g., not many can confidently name certain ingredients (i.e., nuts or dairy for those who have allergies) which go into a certain dish off the top of their head or without going, “Oh, let me check with the kitchen/chef/manager”)
- Service “skills” often overshadow knowledge (some worry too much on how to properly serve a guest that they neglect other aspects of the task/job – read previous point)
- Some staff are socially awkward and are too rigid (most are too formal and clockwork most of the time), while others tend to be over-enthusiastic and pass off as annoying and unnatural/trying too hard
- Staff must be able to multi-task (a.k.a. do the equivalent of 2-3 staff members’ jobs)
- Employers tend to focus more on making profits as opposed to being hospitable and providing exceptional service/food/dining experience (loosely linked to #7)
- Some places are selective when it comes to their hiring process (e.g., preference of younger staff over elderly ones, preference of staff who can liaise well with a certain racial/language group, etc.)
- There are simply too many F&B institutions in Singapore, too many people who want to dine in them and not enough people who actually want to work in them
Ultimately, high staff turnover rates are mainly due to one or a combination of the factors listed above. Therefore, spare a thought for the folks serving you at any eatery the next time you dine out. Adding one or more woes into the already woeful list of woes won’t do them any good. After all; servers, waiters and even chefs are only human beings.
Feel free to add on, discuss, argue, debunk or rebuke and offer suggestions/possible solutions on one or any of the points listed above. I’m all ears when it comes to discussions, regardless of which part of the world you may come from. We all learn something new everyday, don’t we?
Related reads: Waiter Rant by Steve Dublanica