WHY THE SHORTAGE

Image of dead-end job still common

WAITERS can rise to become assistant restaurant managers in less than a year but it is still a job that few Singaporeans are willing to take on.

According to the latest job vacancies report by the Manpower Ministry, waitering was among the five occupations with the most vacancies - at 2,200 - last year. The proportion of wait staff vacancies unfilled for at least six months was 65.2 per cent.

There is the general perception that waiting on tables is a dead-end job because, "even when you are promoted, you are still serving customers", said Mr Frankie Lim, who has been working at a restaurant serving Western food in Tanjong Katong for the past two years.

His job involves serving, taking orders, setting and clearing the tables, and sweeping the floor.

Waiters who have been in the industry for about two years told The Straits Times that the hardest part of the job is that there is very little to look forward to.

Mr K.C. Tan, a waiter at a Chinese restaurant at Turf Club, said: "You have to be humble and put up with all kinds of requests with a smile, whether you are dealing with customers or colleagues. Not everybody can do the job even though it is considered low- skilled."

While the Restaurant Association of Singapore has seen graduates move quickly up the ranks due to outstanding work performance, the sentiment among wait staff, in general, is not that positive. The view is that structured career progression usually happens in big companies. Small outfits may not be able to offer that.

"It's like choosing to work at a (multinational company) or a small-medium enterprise," said Mr Lim.

"There are only so many places you can get to when it's a small outfit, and you probably have to do everything because it is so short of manpower," said the 31-year-old former administrative assistant.

"It's a lot of work but I don't mind because I am thinking of opening my own place," the degree-holder said.

While wait staff complain about the lack of career prospects, sometimes they themselves are to blame. As waitress Choi Hui Min, 29, put it, they do not stay long enough to "give the job a proper shot".

She has worked for two years at a cafe in Holland Village.

She said: "I've seen people quit after two days, complaining that their feet ache after one shift. How do we promote these people? Your feet will ache because you are not used to it. Give it a month or so and anyone will get used to it."

AW CHENG WEI