When McDonald's employee Madam Susan Low came down with a fever four months ago, she took a couple of paracetamols and got back to work. The 55-year-old store activities representative even organised a children's birthday party that day.

"When I'm running a party, I forget any illness. When I see that the kids are happy, I'm happy," she quipped.

Sometimes, the grandmother of four also helps her customers carry their bags, and shelters them with an umbrella to the nearby bus stop when it rains.

For going the extra mile in customer service, Madam Low yesterday received her third consecutive Star award at the Excellent Service Award (Exsa) ceremony for the food and beverage industry. The event, organised by the Restaurant Association of Singapore and supported by Spring Singapore, recognises outstanding service with the Star, Gold and Silver awards.

Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development Lee Yi Shyan presented the awards to about 1,600 service staff from 44 companies at the NTUC Auditorium in One Marina Boulevard, with 186 of them receiving the top Star award.

In his opening address, Mr Lee said employers can help bring out better service in their staff by empowering employees through training, introducing structured work processes, and tapping into industry-wide resources.

"Employers' roles can be likened to cutting and polishing raw gems. Each one can excel if you create for them the conditions to do so," he said.

Mr Lee also stressed the importance of "service recovery", or troubleshooting a problem with a customer. He recalled finding a dead spider in his ice-cream at a hotel in the United States, and how the waiters and managers apologised profusely and refused to charge him and his three companions for their meal.

He said: "Service recovery is something we have to learn. When things don't go according to plan, what happens?"

Referring to the industry's manpower crunch, Mr Lee encouraged the use of technology in restaurants, such as wireless tablets for customers to order their food.

"These reduce human errors, save manpower and more importantly, empower customers and make them feel they are in control of the situation. Service staff are also freed up to focus on customer relations," he said.

Launched in 1994, Exsa also spans six other industries, including banking and retail.