Serve and Nerve at CNY feasting

By KF Seetoh - Friday, Jan 27, 2012

“Restaurant service and food over the last week of CNY will be testing. Remember, it’s about thanksgiving and harmony. Do keep your dragon’s fire breath at bay.”


Text by KF Seetoh


I know it’s a repetitive ditty but Singapore is not known for service. When was the last time we read or viewed a truly independent report on our fantastic world class service standards? Heard about the report on how, in the face of pressure, restaurants are delivering smooth, charming, professional and efficient service, constantly, at this festive dining season? Me neither. But before we stick that index finger at or point at them for the guilty verdict, let’s also have a look at the other three that’s pointing back at us. I can’t quite put a finger on what is it about us that often brings out the worst in service staff. There are exceptions of course, but I am still waiting for a grand investigative piece on it.


Service with a smile need not be mission impossible.


Firstly, and I know it’s cheesy, remember that CNY spirit of compassion and forgiveness (so you know where I am coming from). That $388, $488 or $888 set-meal doesn’t automatically buy you great service. That smile, a friendly demeanour and understanding (and I mean from a customer) does, and it cost you nothing. Factor the service staff’s workload and mental pressure- perhaps 10 of them bussing about 30 tables. Each table of 8-10 has individual needs for drink refills, baby and senior citizen needs, request to adjust spiciness, salt and sugar levels, quicken up service, change of individual platters after each dish, tableside portioning and fish deboning service, needling requests for free parking coupons and knowing which table has relevant discount cards and vouchers etc… Then, having to remember which table asked for what and when. And after all that, is over and above the actual food service. Oh, and I forgot, swallowing diner sarcasms like “ If you can’t deliver, you should all take a holiday instead of taking us for a ride.” (actual words overheard last year).


It’s quite daunting, especially when it’s an expectant full house each night over that 15 days of CNY celebrations and the bosses need to turn the tables in shifts- 6pm first sitting, second at 745pm, and last at 9pm (so it’s a triple whammy, times 15 days for them)


But all’s not lost and there is a fine art in extracting the best of diners and servers to achieve believably good service.


Speed: you may not believe it, but tell them to “take your time, don’t rush, it’s bad for both our health” and it’ll have the opposite effect. They’ll notice you are watching and be reminded that there are a few more shifts ahead to work through.


Ice breaking chatter: a simple liner like, “I hope they are paying you a lot to do this over CNY. I can be generous but I don’t think my ‘ang pow’ can compensate your efforts.” can generate a warm and much needed organic smile.


Ang pow (red packet): remember to give a forgivingly generous ang pow or tip to start their year on a high. It is not wrong to give, on any given day.


Free Parking Vultures: if you insist on one, then tell the serve staff that you’ll rather include that carpark fee amount in the ang pow than pay the management, if they soldier on to get one for you.


More humour: ask them who the boss is and warn them you’ll have a word with the owner or captain about their exceptional service-which is unusually good (even if it registers as mediocre). Praises are cheap and they inspire better service down the road.


Problem babies: even more humour- tell them your bawling baby was trained at the hospital to give service staff a hard time as part of some Work Development Scheme. Say the toddlers’ reactions will determine their promotions and pay increments.


And by the way, don’t go rating and blogging about their food quality this week. Everything is prepared in bulk, pre-cooked and arranged for speed. Accidentally on purpose, pop in to the kitchen as you look for the washroom and see for yourself how frantic the kitchen can be. Just enjoy the company, revelry and count our blessings.


Good health and good fortune to all, ahead. Gong Xi Fa Cai!