Self-ordering helps cafe increase sales by 80% without increasing manpower

SINGAPORE - Oromo Coffee, a three-year-old cafe at Shaw Tower, had found itself facing high staff turnover as well as impatient customers who could easily get their caffeine fix elsewhere.

"People who were in a rush and people who were more relaxed were all standing in the queue together. Some would get frustrated and walk away," said cafe founder Toh Ee Ming.

To solve the problem, the cafe rolled out an iPad app in February to allow customers who are not in a hurry to self-order and self-collect, freeing up the two barristas on duty to serve the "grab and go" customers. This has allowed Oromo to serve both groups more efficiently without hiring more barristas.

Together with a revamped menu with food, the new process led to an 80 per cent rise in sales, said Mr Toh, 42.

The cafe's innovation was highlighted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his speech at the launch of National Productivity Month on Tuesday.

Mr Ronald Dalderup, director and co-founder of innovation consultancy NBDA Asia, who worked with Mr Toh to survey his customer base and develop the new system, said that maintaining a good customer experience is key if you reduce service.

"There should always be a benefit for customers, if you take something out you need to give something back," said Mr Dalderup.

For dine-in customers, it is the chance to make their order from the comfort of their seat, explore the menu or create their own drinks, he said.

For those in a rush, the queues are shorter - waiting time during lunch hour went down from five minutes to three and a half.

As one of the first movers, Mr Toh said there are challenges in getting people to use the system. But he believes it will be implemented in more and more Food & Beverage establishments in time to come, and pointed out that self-service is already very natural in Japan.

"Singaporeans will also become more receptive to using such self-help technology, and we can help to introduce them to it," he said.