Why It Matters

Serving up productive ideas

"Too many cooks spoil the broth" - so goes the old proverb, which eight prominent Indian restaurants have heeded quite literally by setting up a central kitchen together to trim excess headcount.

The Tuas kitchen, which opened last Thursday to much fanfare, is expected to cut manpower needs for restaurants such as Gayatri, Casuarina Curry and Banana Leaf Apolo by 30 per cent to 40 per cent.

Set up by a consortium under the Indian Restaurants Association (Singapore), it produces gravies, sauces and pre-cut vegetables in bulk for each of the restaurants. It is an industry first here to have rival restaurants band together, entrusting secret recipes to one central unit.

But it was an innovation forced upon them by the labour crunch in the food and beverage sector.

The shortage may have eased slightly in the past year, but there were still 5,900 unfilled vacancies in accommodation and food services as of March. Singaporeans traditionally shun restaurant work because of the long hours in a hot kitchen, leaving the sector unsustainably dependent on foreign hires.

The $2.5 million central kitchen project is the first major notch in the belt for the Lean Enterprise Development Scheme. Announced last October, the multi-agency scheme provides firms with support, such as grants or temporary leeway on their foreign worker quotas, to help them restructure.

Over a thousand firms have expressed interest, but the scheme made little concrete headway until the opening of the central kitchen.

Had the eight restaurants not pooled resources, they would not have been able to afford the machines or vacuum-packing technology on their own, to take over tasks they could not hire people to complete.

To protect intellectual property, measures like judicious scheduling have been taken to make sure secret recipes stay that way.

More businesses - not just in F&B - need to lay down their arms and work out how they can share solutions without compromising their unique advantages. Only then will productivity become a menu staple, instead of just the flavour of the day.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2016, with the headline 'Serving up productive ideas'. Print Edition | Subscribe