Good service is all in the hands: Labour chief

Mr Lim holding up a toothpick from Din Tai Fung, which he said is well-designed and an example of the restaurant's focus on details.

SINGAPORE - When labour chief Lim Swee Say goes to Chinese restaurant Din Tai Fung, he is not eyeing its world-renowned dumplings and noodles. Instead, he looks out for the toothpicks.

They are well-designed and of good quality, he said. And in what he calls a "confession", he admits to pinching half a box during each visit.

"It's so good I can never resist," he said, while fishing for a toothpick from his pocket to illustrate his point. "They (the restaurant) really pay attention to all the finest details. Even to the small things like providing you with the toothpick."

"Many restaurants give you toothpicks but the toothpick is so big it can never go through. But this one is so fine that whatever is inside... can surely come out," he said to much laughter from the audience, made up of chief executives of food and beverage companies and reporters.

When asked, a Din Tai Fung spokesman said toothpicks are placed on tables and customers are free to use as many as they like.

Such attention to detail is the reason for a business' success, as it adds a gloss to good service, Mr Lim said on a tour of Din Tai Fung's parent company BreadTalk Group's new Tai Seng headquarters on Monday.

And it is the objective of a Government fund aimed at helping companies in sectors such as retail, food and beverage, and hospitality to improve their service standards.

Based on a survey by Spring Singapore last year, the results have been positive.

Thirty-five food and beverage companies, which tapped the Customer-Centric Initiative administered by Spring Singapore, were asked how they have benefited. The firms received grants of between $50,000 and $150,000 each.

The firms reported an average 23 per cent increase in customer satisfaction levels and a 35 per cent average increase in revenue.

Higher earnings have also helped to push up staff salaries by an average of 17 per cent for each worker.

Mr Lim said the survey also showed that good leadership and an employee-centric culture determine a company's success. BreadTalk chairman George Quek agreed that getting workers to feel that they matter is important.

He reduced the staff training period from eight to four months at Din Tai Fung so they can start earning their full pay sooner.

Mr William Cheng, chief executive of BreadTalk's restaurant division, said the company's management also used employees' feedback to design the central kitchen at the new headquarters which opened last month.

He said: "The workers tell us where and how we should place the machines. They are doing the work, so they know best."

Mr Cheng said BreadTalk hopes to use Spring Singapore's grant to organise more training programmes for staff.

The company has already used the grant to develop a mobile application and website for customers to order pastries and cakes from the company's bakeries.

ameltan@sph.com.sg

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