Is service charge fair with tech-driven self-service?

These days, customers are expected to "self-serve" at F&B outlets that deploy technology.
These days, customers are expected to "self-serve" at F&B outlets that deploy technology.PHOTO: LIANHE WANBAO

An increasing number of food and beverage chains and outlets are deploying technology to cope with the labour shortage.

However, I feel that customer service has been heading in the wrong direction, and I have begun to question whether the 10 per cent service charge is justified.

These days, customers are even expected to "self-serve" at F&B outlets that deploy technology.

Recently, I visited an eatery where I was asked to download a smart-device application, register an account, scan a QR code placed on the table and order menu items through the app.

Customers at that eatery are even encouraged to review or rate special menu items in order to score points or discounts.

At the end of their meal, customers have to walk to a counter to pay their bill electronically.

There is little service-staff interaction with the customer, save for the conveying of dishes to the table.

In fact, it seemed to me that the restaurant supervisor was free enough to step out of the eatery to use her phone and chat with a colleague for 15 minutes in full view of the customers.

I also noticed idle service staff talking loudly to their colleagues, oblivious to customers trying to get their attention.

At other F&B outlets, customers order and pay electronically, pick up their orders through a collection window when their queue numbers are announced and are encouraged to return their trays after the meal.

With the increasing use of technology, one might expect better service from F&B outlets.

What I'm experiencing, instead, is that customers are expected to perform "self-service" actions, such as ordering and paying.

In line with this, should the service charge be reduced?

Kim Say

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 11, 2019, with the headline 'Is service charge fair with tech-driven self-service?'. Print Edition | Subscribe