Indian restaurants to get $2.5m productivity boost

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam (centre) trying his hand at making jileb during the signing of the MOU.
Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam (centre) trying his hand at making jileb during the signing of the MOU.PHOTO: ALL MEMBERS OF THE INDIAN RESTAURANTS ASSOCIATION SINGAPORE (IRAS)

With two new food and beverage (F&B) outlets being added every day, and an ageing workforce in the industry, restaurants here will be competing for a diminishing supply of workers.

This makes it key to use manpower more efficiently, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday.

"Our biggest challenge, and indeed our biggest opportunity in our economic restructuring journey, is to uplift productivity in our domestic service sectors," said Mr Tharman, who is coordinating minister for economic and social policies and chairman of the National Productivity Council. "The solution cannot be to rely on more and more foreign workers," he said.

To improve productivity, 22 members of the Indian Restaurants Association (Singapore) will run two new central processing units to source and process ingredients for outlets, Mr Tharman announced at the Lifelong Learning Institute in Paya Lebar.

The unit for non-vegetarian outlets will be ready in January in Tuas, while the vegetarian one will open in March in MacPherson. The $2.5 million start-up cost is partially funded by government grants.

The units are expected to reduce manpower needs by at least 40 and 20 per cent respectively, through machines such as an onion peeler which can prepare 1kg of onions in one second. Another machine can peel 3,000 eggs in one hour.

Machines like these are too big for small restaurants to own and house, said association adviser G. Shanmugam, who owns Gayatri Restaurant, which has three branches. "What we have to design is a very conducive working environment. By becoming more manpower-lean, we can also pay local workers more," he said.

The association signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) yesterday with the Singapore Productivity Centre to study how Indian restaurants can redesign work flows and use the centralised units.

It signed a separate MOU with the Asian Culinary Institute of Singapore to map career pathways for the Indian F&B industry. There will be 30 positions in restaurants to train local chefs.

The association is among the first applicants to the Lean Enterprise Development scheme, to help small and medium-sized enterprises tap grants and train more locals.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2015, with the headline 'Indian restaurants to get $2.5m productivity boost'. Print Edition | Subscribe