Monday, July 18, 2011

No respect, no love, no thanks for the service industry

Both the customers and the industry in Singapore need to change their mentality towards the women and men who wait our dining tables.  Tets’ take on the service industry in Singapore:

“A waiter is not a servant, but a highly trained individual with a special skill.  If you think about it, the service staff are the ones who make us chefs look good, through flawless presentation of our food.  It is not just about getting people to respect our waitstaff, but also about giving due credit to the profession and attracting more good people who want to stay in this line.” – Tetsuya Wakuda, Chef-owner of Tetsuya (Australia) and Waku-Ghin (Singapore)

Myself, Josephine and Tets
While the kitchens in Singapore are ever growing and evolving to match international standards, the service industry is struggling to keep up.  Singaporeans don't want to get into hospitality because they think they're above it, yet get touchy about restaurants wanting to hire only foreigners (restaurants can only hire a maximum of 50% foreigners anyway, due to government employment restrictions to appease whiny Singaporeans).  Restaurants struggle to even find willing PR & Singaporean applicants, let alone find any who actually want to do the job well.  And "adding tips" alone is not going to solve this problem.  
(Please note that I am generalizing.  More props to the exceptions out there.)

Here are three very different countries known for great service, and equally known to respect their hospitality industry back:
France: The service is arrogant.  Rude, haughty - you'd think you owed them something.  But demeanor aside, their service is impeccable.  Polished and professional, and proud of their line of work (then again, you can say the French are just proud in general... which isn't always a bad thing.).
Japan: Hospitality is bred into the Japanese culture.  In Japan, the customer is always right.  The needs and comfort of the customer is always considered whether you are ordering $200 dessert or $2 ramen.  Service is swift, graceful and unobtrusive.  Service is simply beautiful in Japan and the customers tend to reciprocate with equal mannerliness.
United States: You get what you pay for.  At a fine-dining establishment, expect the best.  Waiters here range from French-style arrogance (the raised eyebrow when you order tap water instead of sparkling) to the ones who treat you like a king or their favorite nephew.  Regardless of their personality (and Americans love to show their personality), every crumb will be swept off the table and water will be refilled without asking.  American-style service tends to be more chatty and personable; it's our way of showing we care about the customer. 

Service makes or breaks a restaurant.  There's no shame in being front of house. Remember: People will always remember good service better than they remember bad service, and good service has the power to guarantee a repeat customer.  Like any other profession, the only shame is if you don't perform to your best.  Take pride in your work--how do you expect people to respect your job when you don't respect it yourself?

Likewise for the customer, especially for the ones who have never and will never be in the service industry, your waiter isn't your servant.  Expect good service, but remember to show respect for your fellow people.  Waiting tables is physically taxing, and dealing with hungry customers face-to-face is one of the most exhausting first-world duties you can imagine.


  1. Have you ever served as a waiter or a wait staff before?

    If wait staff don't go for training and then are expected to perform to 'top' service from the get go, who is at fault when the poor wait staff can't perform to scratch.

    It's a little bit rich coming from Tet when I have been to Tet in Australia and their wait staff are hardly better than the average people who just cart dishes to the table.

  2. Yes, I have served as a waitress, host and bartender for years.

    I don't see how your comment is relevant to Tets' quote. He, like many other fine-dining restaurant owners, know that staff need to be trained (also, like any other profession).

  3. I've talked to a couple chefs, and they say their biggest problem is training the servant out of their waiter.

    That said, I was recently at Aquavit, and their chef, Marcus Jernmark, described to me how they were going to take the Month of August to take the entire staff on field trips to visit their local suppliers, see the pig farms and such.

    Bravo to them i say!

  4. The real question to me is how many people in the service industry at the restaurant level actually want to be in the service industry?

    All too common in NYC, waiters and waitresses are wannabe actors. The top tier restaurants have terrific waitstaff not just because of training, but because they have people who want to be there and grow in that industry.

    Also, the average place, whether it be in the US or France (Japan may be an exception, although I can't speak first-hand), don't bother to tie together the natural disconnect between the FOH and kitchen. A lot of this often has to do with alpha-personality managers at both ends.

  5. I think Singaporeans are whiny in general and they take alot for granted. The service mindset was never something we grew up with in our culture. Waiting at tables through college, I remember having parents telling their screaming kids that if they didn't shut up and behave themselves, they would end up as a waitress (directly pointing at me). So, if you teach the kids that the service industry is a bad place, it's ingrained in their minds that it's a dirty job. Last year when i went home, service wasn't any better, because PRCs have been hired to do the 'dirty job' that Singaporeans deemed themselves too good for. I don't really understand how that works in the long run because the PRC yells at my Malay and Indian friends like they ought to speak Mandarin. We are so far away from the Singapore that I knew growing up.

    I think it all begins with education and perhaps the gen Y Singaporeans would know better than to generalise and criticise.



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