WHEN it comes to better service, Singapore cafes appear to have edged ahead in recent years.
According to a straw poll of 90 customers by The Straits Times yesterday, 50 respondents said service standards in cafes have improved, compared with five years ago.
A personal touch could be their secret.
Full-time national serviceman Timothy Tan, 21, said: "In smaller cafes, the boss is usually around, and he and the staff tend to take more ownership and pride in their jobs."
Restaurants and shops did not fare as well in the poll, with consumer opinion split almost evenly across three categories - better, worse or unchanged, in the past five years.
Said Mr Tan: "In franchises such as restaurants and retail, the work tends to be outsourced to staff who do not really have ownership in their work, and don't care so much about quality."
Others who were polledsaid service quality hinged on several components - individual members of the staff, the emphasis a company places on service, how it treats workers, and the customers themselves.
Mrs Irene Tay, 50, a sales executive, said: "It all boils down to whether you have a passion for the job, and enjoy the job. It is also a two-way thing because if customers do not appreciate service staff, the service staff will not enjoy their job and do it badly."
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Monday that while there has been progress over the past decade in building a strong service culture, the country is "not quite where we want to be yet".
If Singapore is to improve on its service standards, all the stakeholders - companies, service staff and customers - have to do their part, he said at the Singapore Service Excellence Medallion awards.
Receptionist Shariffah, 21, who goes by one name, agreed. However, she added that rising consumer expectations are also to blame.
"Service standards all around are actually acceptable. It's the customers whose expectations are too high," she said.