From the ST archives: So you want to be a waiter? Can you sing? Or tell a joke?

TGI Friday's trainee crew punctuate a rap song about quality service with hearty shouts. PHOTO: ST FILE

This article was first published in The Straits Times print edition on May 2, 1993.

SINGAPORE - When a new pub-restaurant advertised for staff recently, 1,200 people applied for just over 120 positions.

The main attraction at TGI Friday’s was that its barmen, waiters and waitresses would do much more than serve and be courteous.

They would have to be gregarious and generally have a good time while they work. They must introduce themselves and chat with customers before recommending the dish of the day.

Suddenly, it seems, waiting on tables has taken on a new shine. At least half a dozen entertainment spots say they have a queue of young hopefuls eager to be livewire barmen and waiters.

The newest is TGI Friday’s, which opens at Park Mall on May 10.

Part of an American casual dining chain known for its acrobatic barkeepers who spin and juggle bottles and shakers, it trained actor Tom Cruise for his role as a sexy bartender in the film Cocktail. It is not related to the TGIF disco-restaurant at Far East Plaza.

Its country consultant, Mr Brad Hanson, here to oversee training, said: “We prefer to look for aptitude and personality rather than experience. We can teach you to make drinks, but we can’t teach you to smile.”

He said there was no sign that Singaporeans were too shy or inhibited to do the job.

One of the first places here to change the image of service staff was Cheers! The Fun Pub at the Novotel Orchid Singapore, where anyone from the barmaid to the manager will belt out a Top 40 tune when the mood hits them.

At the Raffles Hotel’s Seah Street Deli, Tony Roma’s restaurant at the Orchard Hotel Shopping Arcade and the Rasa Sentosa resort on Sentosa, waiters have to be really friendly if they want to keep their job.

At Hard Rock Cafe in Cuscaden Road, only one out of every four applicants get the job.

Operations manager Mark Chan said a large number of students from junior colleges, the United World College and the Singapore American School want jobs.

Assistant manager Colman Emmanuel, 25, and barmaid Betsy Kwan, 23, take turns singing at Cheers! pub. ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

They are drawn to the loud pop music which “keeps them pumped up” but only those who show they can make friends quickly get the job, which pays $850 a month.

The resident manager of the Novotel Orchid Singapore, Mr Andrew Khoo, said that Cheers had no problems attracting singing staff as they are paid a $500 monthly allowance. It has seven serving staff, all of whom sing.

The only problem with hiring multi-talented staff is that they become so good, they graduate to being full-time entertainers.

Cheers has produced three: Kumar, a former waiter, is now a stand-up comic and a television host of the weekly Ra Ra Show.

Waiter Jefri Brown now fronts Hard Rock Cafe’s resident band Jive Talking.

Waitress Gopalakrishna Jayarani became a karaoke jockey and recently won the female section of the Asian Grand Finals of the Pioneer 3rd Asian Laser Karaoke Championship.

Guests seem to like the upbeat service at such places.

Said Mr Malcolm Tay, 31, a sales executive: “I grew up in Toa Payoh and know the hawkers at the food centre. I am used to a noisy, friendly atmosphere. I hate eating and drinking in quiet places.”

However, at the Singapore Hotel Association Training and Educational Centre (Shatec), assistant chief executive officer Teo Poh Kheam said that the demand for traditional seen-not-heard type of waiters was still a mainstay.

“The guest approaches the staff if he wants to strike up a conversation, not the other way around,” she said.

But Mr Yusmar Salim, 26, who used to be a prim poolside waiter at a hotel, is counting the days to TGI Friday’s opening, so that he can be himself while he works.

He said: “They say I can be natural. I am a joker so I will like that!”

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.