SINGAPORE food services companies are feeling the crunch of the tightened foreign labour quota. As they turn towards hiring local staff, many lament that Singapore workers demand higher pay and are unwilling to work shifts.

Many do not stay long in one job and move as soon as they are offered slightly better pay.

Meanwhile, the restaurant industry has seen growth and this has had a knock-on effect on the food services sector. It either employs more staff or raises the productivity of existing staff.

"Over the past few years, Singapore has seen strong growth in the number of food service establishments, and in the number of workers in this industry.

"However, there are not enough workers to sustain this rate of growth," says Mr Sim Choon Siong, director of the food division at Spring Singapore.

"To overcome this and compete in the new business environment, food service operators will have to transform themselves and adopt productive operating models with reduced reliance on manpower," he says.

To resolve the labour crunch and improve productivity, the Food Services Productivity Plan, endorsed by the National Productivity and Continuing Education Council (NPCEC) in 2010, was launched in April 2011, with a budget of $75 million.

The plan has five strategies:

  • drive process redesign;
  • upgrade manpower and human resource capabilities;
  • promote innovation;
  • develop infrastructural support and expertise; and
  • create awareness.

Since its launch, Spring Singapore has helped hundreds of companies. Top company executives have been trained and equipped with better human resource and management capabilities.

Major industry initiatives, such as centralised dishwashing, digital service - such as self-service kiosks and both wireless and mobile app ordering and payment - online training portals, manpower scheduling systems and e-procurement portals, have been rolled out.

"The key game-changer initiatives to help food services operators adapt in this new operating environment are digital service at the front-of-house to streamline the ordering and payment processes, and shared services at the back-of-house, such as centralised dishwashing," says Mr Sim.

"The Government has worked with several vendors to develop digital service solutions that can be easily deployed to outlets."

He adds that food services operators will also have to improve their employer branding to attract employees, through initiatives such as training and better man- management capabilities.

As at the end of 2012, the food services sector had 6,700 establishments.

It contributed $7.8 billion in operating receipts and $2.8 billion in value-added economic activity (0.8 per cent of gross domestic product).