At Your Service

4 min read
The lack of good service is a common complaint among patrons of food outlets here. What are some of the reasons for it and what can be done to improve the situation?

We’ve all heard stories or been on the receiving end of unsatisfactory service at local restaurants, cafes, and pubs. Waiters who are rude, can’t communicate clearly or lack product knowledge are some of the horror stories that have made the rounds.

This bugbear is acknowledged even by industry players. Veteran food innovator Mr Peter Knipp, who founded the World Gourmet Summit — Asia’s premier haute cuisine festival to celebrate fine cuisines, excellent wines and wonderful dining experiences — admits that, compared to Hong Kong, Singapore lags behind in this area. He attributes the poor quality of service to societal attitudes towards the service sector.

“There is no incentive to go into the service industry in Singapore. It is not a glorious position. The public perception here is that, if you are a waiter, you are someone who has failed; you are a failure of the education system,” he articulates.

WHY IS IT SO HARD?
Service positions in the F&B industry are often perceived as less glamorous, with long working hours and lower wages. This then gives rise to staff who display a lack of professionalism and pride in their work. Given this attitude, “Where is the incentive to be a world-class server?” poses Mr Knipp rhetorically. Such a mentality is further exacerbated by a lack of proper training, he surmises.

What emerges is that there is no single factor that can be attributed to lapses in service in the sector.

Some would be inclined to point the finger at the customer for being too demanding. Indeed, a survey by American Express showed Singaporeans are among the most demanding in the world when it comes to customer service.

Mr Knipp feels that, while it’s fine for customers to be demanding, it’s important that they show respect to service staff. “I am a demanding customer but respectful. If I see potential in the staff, I will give them guidance,” reveals the chef-turned-entrepreneur, who in 2001 launched the WGS Awards of Excellence (AOE) to recognise players in the F&B industry and encourage them to excel at their craft and service.

WHAT NEEDS TO CHANGE?
Customer service can make or break a restaurant. In order to attract better-quality workers, there first needs to be a societal shift in attitude towards the service industry, opines Mr Knipp. “People need to realise that we are all in the service industry, and that individuals have to pursue jobs that they are good at. Not everybody can be a doctor or lawyer. People need to earn a living.”

His view was echoed by the Restaurant Association of Singapore. “While F&B companies continue to redesign and improve their operations workflow and job roles, it is important to note that a societal culture shift in a service mindset has to happen,” a spokesperson expressed in an interview with ChannelNews Asia. “Contrary to other societies where service roles are treated with dignity and respect, perhaps we need to start such mindset early, perhaps even when they are still in their teens,” he suggested.

Proper training and knowledge competency also needs to take place. Singapore is not without restaurants that meet high standards of service. Mr Knipp gives the example of fine-dining establishments such as Odette and Jaan, which he thinks offer “world-class service”.

“People don’t go there simply for the food or because they are Michelin-starred; it’s also for the service. And they are able to deliver because good service is part of their culture, and the staff have the knowledge competency. The servers will explain the dishes they are serving while the sommelier knows his wine,” he explains.

Bad service can hurt a business. In these times, when the food-and-beverage sector is already facing so many other challenges, service is an area that needs to be taken seriously.

OFFER A COMPLIMENT
We all appreciate compliments that come our way — kind words can change a person’s entire demeanour and attitude. People working in the service industry often become motivated when customers say something nice, leading them to work harder to offer better service.

At AA Singapore, many of our staff have been working hard to give good service to Members, and it shows in the number of compliments that we’ve received. Lift your mood by reading some of them here. By all means, if you’d like to offer your own bouquet to the list, you can do so at this email address: aasmail@aas.com.sg.

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