New Paper: Here’s a tip for better service


By Glenda Han

IT’S good that there’s so much emphasis on making Singapore a top tourist destination.

It’s a land where different Asian cultures have fused, where shopping is good and relatively cheap. It’s safe and clean, communication with the locals is hardly a problem and service is near excellent.

Excellent service? I would like to think so. But we usually find compliments of good service coming from the well-heeled or from tourists at big hotels, expensive restaurants, the Zoo or the Underwater World in Sentosa. More so after the Singapore Tourism Board formed a Service Quality Division in February 2003 to improve service standards in tourism-related sectors.

Elsewhere, I don’t think the frontline staff are rude. But they don’t make an impression either. The experience in Singapore would be more enjoyable if excellent service extends across all sectors, in particular the food and beverage line.

I have often wondered if we should advocate tipping to raise the service level. The service charge of 10 per cent charged by the establishments usually does not go to the service staff. So there is little reason for them to provide a level of service worth commending.

If waiters are tipped directly, they are likely to be more attentive and conscious of their behaviour towards customers. They understand that if customers are pleased with the service, the tip may be more rewarding. With a tangible relationship between their tips and their service level, would they not feel motivated to provide their best?

Unfortunately, in Singapore, waiting on tables is one of the most challenging and difficult lines to be in.

Waiters come into contact with all sorts of people. They must be able to interact with customers well, and even put up with a few nasty and unreasonable ones.

Yet waiters are not given the respect or income they deserve.

As waiting on tables is not seen as a ‘real’ job but often treated as a vacation or casual job, establishments usually have a difficult time recruiting and retaining waiting staff.

Only when the employees take their vocation more seriously can the negative perception change.

With tipping, the amount a waiter earns would potentially be greater and this increase in wages would be a big motivational factor leading to higher job satisfaction.

And a higher level of respect for the work will come only when those who do it take pride in it.

When that happens, staff turnover will inevitably go down.

It’s wrong to think the establishments will face a 10 per cent drop in revenue, as one of my friends pointed out, if the service charge is taken out of the bill. The prices on the menu should take into account the costs as well as the profits needed to run the business.

And customers tend to revisit establishments where they find the service to be impeccable.

Our courtesy campaigns have been running since 1979. Now I think it’s time for more pragmatic solutions to try to cultivate a more genial attitude.

The direct and immediate interaction between the waiter and the customer means both parties induce and influence each other’s behaviour.

And our behaviour usually rubs off on others. If you feel good because a member of the service staff has been nice to you, wouldn’t you want to be just as nice to the next person?

Perhaps it’s time to do away with the 10 per cent service charge, so that people get used to the idea that there is more to great service than just a smile.

With a spillover effect, Singapore may not only have excellent service and but become a truly gracious city as well.

The writer owns a restaurant and was part of the Workers’ Party team which contested in Ang Mo Kio GRC in the recent General Election. For feedback, e-mail

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