Waiting on tables in a restaurant is hard enough as it is but the lack of respect that service staff sometimes get from diners is only making it harder for firms to attract people amid a tight labour market.
Bosses in the food and beverage game know all too well that their industry is one of the worst affected by the labour crunch, so having to fight the stigma that comes with service jobs is the last thing they need.
"Young locals shun the service line because they do not get the respect that their peers do in other industries, and it is something society must overcome," said Mr Kurt Wehinger, general manager of Marina Mandarin Hotel.
Mr Wehinger, 59, also lamented that good service staff have not been able to get their Employment Passes renewed amid stricter foreign labour regulations.
To make up for the shortfall, Marina Mandarin underwent a customer-centric initiative exercise with the support of Spring Singapore to improve its productivity.
The six-month exercise began in April last year and cost $100,000; most of that was covered by a Spring Singapore grant.
An initiative that was implemented last November involved linking the hotel's atrium lounge to a full integrated ordering system. Unlike other restaurants and cafes, where tablet computers are used as electronic menus or ordering devices, the hotel goes one step further. Information is keyed in by patrons and sent via the tablets to mobile phones which are carried by all service staff.
"Guests can self-order and customise their meals by looking through the menu and browsing through the pictures," said Mr Wehinger.
"With the tablet, they can press a 'call for service' button, type out dietary restrictions, give feedback and view the inventory level of items which are selling fast or out of stock.
"Instead of waving their hands in the air to get the attention of a waiter, a pop-up with the corresponding table number will appear on the mobile phones issued to our staff. They will then attend to the guests' needs."
By eliminating the traditional step of taking down orders with pen and paper, the hotel has been able to cut down manpower needs by one staff member per shift.
The atrium lounge, which is manned by about seven employees during the evening peak period, takes up much of the hotel's fourth floor and spans an area about as large as two basketball courts, so cutting down walking time is a key improvement.
On top of the reduced walking time, the new system also removes the extra time taken to check the availability of certain items with the kitchen.
However, the greatest concern for Mr Wehinger was whether the hotel could still provide a five-star service with a new ordering system that reduces interaction between staff and guests.
Much to his surprise, customer satisfaction has climbed by five percentage points since the system was implemented.
"The new format of ordering allowed us to provide personalised service to patrons who needed it more," he said.
"For example, someone less tech-savvy who would need more help can hit the 'call for service' button, and our waiters will attend to their needs in a manner of their choice."
Sales of food at the atrium lounge have gone up since the automated ordering system was implemented, added Mr Wehinger.
The system also allows guests to give instant feedback about the service, with comments popping up on the employees' phones.
Mr Wehinger said the new process has increased the ease of recording and capturing compliments by 90 per cent.
Compliments account for one component that determines whether staff members are awarded employee of the month or year honours - which gives them a better shot at promotion.
Mr Wehinger said: "I believe that the new system will help us boost staff morale and retain more of our people.
"If the staff feel appreciated and like where they work, why would they leave?"
Ms Iris Yeo, 39, a regular guest at the atrium lounge, said: "(The new menu) is more convenient compared with the multiple menus (beverage menu, food menu and monthly special card) that I used to get in the past."
Her favourite feature of the system is the "call for service" button, which she describes as "effortless" when she needs to get hold of a staff member for help.
Mr Wehinger hopes to devise a beverage list that runs on a similar system across the hotel's restaurants and food outlets.
A wine list will be a part of this new system, which will let the hotel instantly update its available vintages.
"We have limited cases of wine that we bring in from time to time," noted Mr Wehinger.
"And the new system will allow us to easily remove a particular wine or bottle that is unavailable, and update the inventory across the four food and beverage outlets.
"This is much easier than having the waiter verbally tell the guests that some wines are out of stock, or paste stickers over a traditional menu."
He hopes to roll out the integrated beverage menu by August.
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