Monday, 14 January 2013

Time for reunion dinner, but where are the waiters?

Restaurants offering part-timers more pay than ever before, but still find it hard to fill vacancies
By Goh Shi Ting, The Sunday Times, 13 Jan 2013

During the day, Mr Novian Indra works as an assistant credit controller in the finance department of Orchard Hotel Singapore.

Come Chinese New Year, however, he will don a different hat and work as a waiter in one of the hotel's two Chinese restaurants.

Chinese New Year is crunch time for restaurants which typically struggle to hire additional workers for their busiest time of the year. Many restaurant operators told The Sunday Times that they are offering part-timers more pay than ever before - up to $180 a day - and still find it tough to fill vacancies.

Some of the larger chains and hotels are mobilising staff from other departments like Mr Indra, to help plug gaps so they can handle the dine-in bookings they have received for reunion dinners.

The 28-year-old Balinese S-Pass holder has responded to the call to work as a waiter at Hua Ting Restaurant, which will remain open during the festive period. He will be paid overtime rates.

"It is a challenge to employ part-timers now that the school holidays are over. Currently, all our outlets are running below desired par," said Mr Andrew Tan, general manager of Orchard Hotel.

Besides getting employees from other departments, the hotel is designing a special Chinese New Year pay package to entice more part-timers to work during the peak period.

Staff are also encouraged to get help from family members. One chef has roped in his two children to help out in the restaurant.

It is little wonder that the hotel is going all out to attract people to work the long Chinese New Year weekend from Feb 9 to 12.

Hua Ting restaurant, which welcomes 160 patrons on a usual day, is expecting to serve 600 on the eve of Chinese New Year when families have their customary reunion dinner. With its other restaurant, Orchard Cafe, Orchard Hotel requires more than 50 part-timers, on top of the 80 it now has.

Other eateries may not have the resources a big hotel has but they are not giving up the fight for part-timers. Most of those asked by The Sunday Times said they are offering 15 per cent to 40 per cent more than last year's rates but are staying mum on the exact amount to avoid a price war.

"I'm offering part-timers $170 to $180 a day if they are experienced and yet, it's still hard to find people. I paid them $100-plus a day in previous years," said Ms Victoria Li, director of the Old Hong Kong chain which has six restaurants.

Tung Lok Group, with 24 outlets, is looking for 80 part-timers to add to its stable of nearly 600 full- and part-time staff. "Requirements such as experience and attitude make it more difficult to hire the right staff, given the very restricted pool of resources we have," said its chief operating officer Ricky Ng.

Besides the usual recruitment channels such as advertisements, Tung Lok also uses social media, recruitment notices placed at its outlets and collaboration with student bodies.

Other restaurants said they need 15 per cent to 50 per cent more manpower to get through the period.

Owners blame the tightened foreign worker quota that left a gaping hole in their headcount. From last July, foreign workers can make up only 45 per cent of total staff in the service industry.

Said Mr Thomas Choong, co-owner of Xi Yan Chinese restaurant: "Restaurants would have to reduce the number of tables or turns or otherwise run the risks of disgruntled customers."

Singapore's productivity well below most developed countries: DPM Tharman
By Kimberly Spykerman, Channel NewsAsia, 13 Jan 2013

Singapore's productivity is well below that of the most developed countries, according to Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

In a Facebook post on Sunday, he noted that restaurants here are experiencing difficulties finding employees.

Mr Tharman said some restaurants have raised pay to attract part-timers during the peak Lunar New Year season. 

But most still have difficulty finding people, because the overall labour market is close to full employment. 

DPM Tharman said these are real problems for businesses, but the solution is not to ease up on foreign worker policies.

He said the solution has to be more fundamental.

Using restaurants in the US, Europe, Japan, and Hong Kong as examples, he noted that they have fewer workers, but are still able to do well.

The same employee handles more duties, and serves more tables.

The employees are well-paid, both full-time and part-time.

They know their stuff, including details of the dishes on the menu, and are well trained.

The restaurants also employ older workers, give them good jobs with some adjustments where required, and customers treat them with respect.

Mr Tharman said productivity then becomes key to upgrading incomes and standards of living - and transforming jobs is the only 'fundamental and sustainable' solution.

Higher productivity will also mean price increments can be minimised - even if wages go up.

He said everyone has to play his or her part.

Employers have to transform the way businesses are run and share productivity gains with their employees through higher pay. 

Employees need to pick up skills and keep learning on the job.

Mr Tharman said the government has to keep the foreign worker policy tight, but at the same time lend strong support to help this upgrading and upskilling in every sector.

And customers too have to play their part by treating workers in ordinary jobs with respect.

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