From robots to self-service: 5 ways restaurants are beating staff shortages

Cabinet Minister and Secretary-General of the National Trades Union Congress Lim Swee Say (right) adding ingredients to a robot wok that is "cooking" fried rice during a visit to Chinese fast-food chain Ruyi on Dec 6, 2010. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Cabinet Minister and Secretary-General of the National Trades Union Congress Lim Swee Say (right) adding ingredients to a robot wok that is "cooking" fried rice during a visit to Chinese fast-food chain Ruyi on Dec 6, 2010. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - With the manpower shortage wreaking havoc on the local restaurant industry, some eateries have taken the extreme step of turning away diners even when there are empty tables.

For others, survival means thinking out of the box.

Here are five methods eateries are using to cater for the crowds.

1. Going high-tech

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At Sentosa's Ruyi, a robot fries rice for diners. Meanwhile, Resorts World Sentosa has two large-scale dishwashers - each washing up to 2,000 plates an hour.

2. Self-service

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More eateries are making customers serve themselves. At Jumbo Group's Jpot hotpot restaurants, customers order on iPads. At cafes like Wimby Lu in Serangoon Gardens, customers hold buzzers which ring when food is ready. Thai restaurant Siam Society on Jalan Riang requests that customers get water themselves.

3. Buying pre-made products

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Instead of making food from scratch, more restaurants are turning to easier and faster alternatives. Rendezvous Grand Hotel Singapore, for instance, buys nonya kueh, roast meat and pre-mixed bak kut teh spices from suppliers.

4. Home deliveries

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Food outlets are tying up with food delivery sites such as Foodpanda to deliver meals to their customers' doorsteps. This means more sales without the need to hire more people. Thai joint Nara Thai started delivering three months ago. Old Hong Kong Kitchen started doing so recently.

5. Pulling out all the stops to attract staff

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Eateries are making their jobs more attractive. Salad Stop! has a flexi-work plan for older workers and housewives. Employees aged over 55 work 35 hours a week at times of their choosing. They also get bonuses and medical insurance. Housewives work 7am-to-2pm shifts - tailored to match school hours. They do not work weekends or evenings.