Tech ideas to transform food service industry

Using a machine that can help bartenders polish wine glasses thrice as quickly, or a wireless ordering system that allows a waiter to place orders and settle bills without walking back and forth to a counter.

These are examples of what companies in Singapore's food service industry can do to be more productive and are listed in a food service sectoral manpower plan launched yesterday by Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran.

The plan aims to improve jobs in the food service industry by reducing reliance on labour and building up the skills of local workers for them to progress in their careers.

The five-year plan, developed by Spring Singapore and the Workforce Development Agency with industry stakeholders and unions, outlines three key strategies: redesigning jobs using technology, building a future-ready Singaporean core and strengthening human resources.

At the launch at The White Rabbit, a restaurant in a former chapel in Dempsey, Mr Iswaran said the growth of the food service sector over the past years has been supported by a manpower increase, which is "not sustainable, given the tight labour situation".

The food service sector now employs about 160,000 workers across 6,000 establishments, or about 4.5 per cent of the nation's workforce.

Mr Iswaran said: "What we need is a clear commitment on the part of our industry leaders... to the manpower and upgrading transformation that we want to achieve."

He said the industry can be made to appeal to "Singaporeans with high career aspirations and a passion for service".

He lauded The Lo & Behold Group, which owns and operates The White Rabbit restaurant, for its ability to attract and retain talent.

The company's staff benefits include giving the 10 per cent service charge to employees as bonuses, and offering staff personal development or recreational activities whenever daily targets are met.

All employees are also entitled to a month of sabbatical leave after five consecutive years of service.

Chief operating officer Andrew Ing said: "We hope that our staff will do something meaningful with it. In our industry, we work long hours and weekends.

"They don't always get a chance to do the things other people can do."

Director of operations systems Betty Wong, who took the sabbatical leave last December to travel to India and Thailand, said: "It's something unique to our company that helps build loyalty. You feel you are valued.

"You can use it to have a good break, recharge and come back and contribute to the company more."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 01, 2016, with the headline 'Tech ideas to transform food service industry'. Print Edition | Subscribe