I was at the press conference of the World Gourmet Summit today and the key stakeholders were talking about the difficulty in hiring service staff in Singapore and also the inability to meet (high) service standards.
Reasons given included the low unemployment rate amongst Singaporeans, resulting in us not willing to do service level jobs, another was the perception that a service job in F&B business was just not prestigious.
Of course, Singaporeans defending themselves will immediately say the jobs in themselves don’t pay well enough otherwise we would all want to be restaurant managers. This seems to be the de-facto no-brainer response to this kind of topic these days.
I surmise somebody out there is going to say they pay restaurant managers $10,000/month in some Scandinavian country. Good for them.
So it shouldn’t be surprising that…
Nobody Wants To Be A Waiter
… And then we came to the punchline of the discussion, that the F&B industry does need foreign labour (waiters, cooks, managers) and foreign talent (Michelin-star quality chefs) to fill this void that Singaporeans cannot fulfil.
Low cost for lower skilled but integral labour. High cost to buy prestige factor and expertise.
Now I don’t have a solution for labour shortage, nor do I know how to deal with foreign labour restrictions and I definitely don’t have any idea how you can make your restaurant business viable.
I also don’t know how you can make a waitering job more attractive. Perhaps restaurant owners can actually split the service charge they impose on customers.
Screw The Service, The Food Is Awful!
But what I want to say is, in spite of this need (from whom I don’t know) to boost the F&B industry in Singapore, with new eateries sprouting up everywhere, that the quality of food is actually dropping regardless of the service standards, which I didn’t expect to be high in the first place.
Those pictures of food on Instagram hashtagged #foodporn in Singapore might look good, but in general, the food is crap. French, American, Moroccan, Indian, Chinese, local hawker fare, you name it.
American Diner-inspired cafes offer up cute-looking pancakes costing $30 that taste nothing like iHop. Laksa served in food courts looks like noodles swimming in orange/red water. Steak-frites is not really just a piece of beef and french fries, you know? Mushroom soup shouldn’t taste worse than if I just microwaved a can of Campbell’s. You really don’t have any business starting a sushi joint if you didn’t know Salmon Don came with vinegared rice. And don’t get me started on the coconut rice plus everything that you call “nasi lemak”.
What the F&B industry faces is really a larger problem across Singapore society: A dilution of quality.
What’s funny is the foreign talent coming to Singapore end up assimilating our worst trait — Complaining.
Complain about government. Complain about people. Complain about staff. Complain about customers. Complain about suppliers.
You think a French or English chef is sexy with his accent? Hear him complain and he’ll sound just like a Singaporean. Singapore has become a melting pot afterall.
Honestly, we should have a national campaign to have PRIDE in what we do, whatever job we do.
Don’t do it well for someone else, do it well for your own goodness sake.
STANDARDS. There you have it.
Have you ever eaten in Chinatown in New York City? Boy, those waiters are grouchy. But nobody cares because the food is cheap and good.