Bring back Tipping to draw Singaporeans to work in F&B sector

The Restaurant Association of Singapore (RAS) has issued a strong statement urging the government to re-assess curbs on the inflow of foreign workers or businesses will face dire consequences.

It added in a statement that if nothing is done, Singapore may also lose its reputation as a global city with a vibrant food and beverage (F&B) sector. The association was responding to the Population White Paper, which was recently endorsed in Parliament.

What got to me was the liner in the statement that said “the sector is facing a dire situation because many Singaporeans tend to shun F&B jobs, leaving the industry with little choice but to rely on foreign workers.”

Cheap foreign labour as the solution again?

Are there really no other alternatives to consider? Have they really run out of ideas? If so, let me make some suggestions that may help draw Singaporeans to work in the food and beverage industry. Have a minimum wage, pay higher wages and come up with better and more innovative human resource policies are some obvious ideas. But the key suggestion I will like to make is for our government to scrap the 10% service charge and bring back tipping instead.

Unknown to many, the customary 10% service charge doesn’t go into the pockets of the service staff in Singapore. It goes to the company that owns the F&B business. What they do with the money is anyone’s guess.

In countries such as in the US, it literally pays to work as a wait staff as they get to make a fair amount of tips on top of their wages. Tipping also motivates the staff to work harder and to be more productive. It also helps to raise the standard of service, something which Singapore seriously needs to look into.

In many European countries like Spain for example, I have been impressed and humbled by how hard their wait staff work.  Their productivity puts our country’s to shame. Many restaurants and cafes in Europe have a skeletal team which multi-tasks and work efficiently. At one cafe in bustling Barcelona, I witnessed a woman single-handedly working the cash till while taking orders, making coffee and dishing up breakfast.  She was the only person serving all the customers in that cafe. Her hard work was well rewarded by appreciative tips.

Singapore doesn’t have tipping culture you say?  Well, we did, until the law changed with the introduction of the service charge. It will take time to change mindsets, but if we don’t try alternative solutions like bringing back tipping to make the job more attractive, the service industry will always have a crutch mentality. It’s just too easy to “threaten” our pro-foreigner government and demand for cheap foreign labour to solve labour woes.


Note:  the 10% service charge isn’t mandated by law. But it is a grey area that the government should look into in view of the slipping service standards and labour woes.  Read this legal view for more info…

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10 Responses to Bring back Tipping to draw Singaporeans to work in F&B sector

  1. Kok Ah Snook says:

    The productivity in the F & B industry here is abysmal. When I was in Sydney I went to a pub. There were 30 customers and 1 staff behind the bar. He was doing everything, pulling the beers, cashiering, collecting the glasses and washing them in the glass washing machine.

    In my regular pub here there are 4 staff serving the same number of customers. One sits at the cash register fiddling with it and the music console, one filling the beers, one washing and drying the glasses by hand and one standing and walking around.

    No one in Singapore has ever heard of dish washing and glass washing machines. I have never seen them anywhere.

    • The problem with many F&B operators is they are hesitant to invest in new technology even though dish washers are not new. They are also stuck in a rut when it comes to motivating or training their staff. Why i dont know. is it because they are too busy, they cant be bothered to think and innovate or is it because they think it isnt worth it cos of the high turnover and availability of cheap foreign hires? Vicious cycle that needs to be broken. And I am not holding my breath that our government will lead the way to think out of the box.

  2. Winking Doll says:

    Hi JC,

    Just to share what I understand of F&B industry here in B.C., Canada. Waiting on tables can earn living-wages because of the existence of a minimum wage and also a tipping culture where an average of 15% in tips is given to the staff. [From what I understand, it usually goes into a pool that is split amongst all the staff at the end of each day.] When service is good, 20% or more in tips are typically given. In order to serve food, the worker has to be licensed for food handling and a separate license is required for serving liquor, so the renumeration must be attractive enough for workers to want to get the certification(s) to get into F&B.

    I agree that running down the cheaper foreign labour route is not the solution. Surely if the pay is good, there will be takers to the job. Remember the “Green Frog looks for $3K/month dishwasher” saga?

    • Hi Wnking Doll Happy Lunar New Year to you:) Yes it is pretty lucrative to be a wait staff in North America. People there tip generously for good service and the staff are usually cheerful and motivated. If only we can have that culture here From what I recall, the mandatory service charge was introduced years ago cos of the kiasu mentality. The people who pushed for it back then felt that was the only way to “force” Singaporeans to pay for the service. But then see what happend? The level of service has dropped a lot and people are not taught to appreciate good service, and the service charge doesn’t even go to the staff but the businesses! And what is our government and the Restaurant Association doing to change this? Nothing except push for more and more technical training programs and more foreign labour. They have completedly ignored the need to motivate.

  3. Upset Singaporean says:

    What is ironic about the 10% service charge that we pay, even for poor service, is that GST gets levied on top of it (because it is going to the restaurant’s coffers, and not to the staff directly). I agree we should do away with mandatory service charge, and I for one, will tip generously if the service merits it. Even now, if I have had been served well, I routinely leave some additional cash after signing the credit card slip. But I am frankly not sure if tipping is the only way to motivate service staff or to improve the quality of service, or that it will work in Singapore. There is no tipping in Japan or New Zealand, and yet the standard of service in these countries is on par with countries where tipping is the norm. And before the 10% service charge became de rigeur and tipping was encouraged for good service, what was the situation like?

  4. Hi thanks for all your comments. We can’t really compare Singapore with Japan where it’s steeped in a culture to be very polite and service/customer oriented. my point about tipping is not a cure all but just one of the ways to motivate staff and to make it more attractive for people to want to become a service staff. We also can’t really compare with the old days as the whole industry and F&B culture has changed so much. We didn’t eat out as much nor have that many F&B outlets back then for one. Also, the service charge was introduced fairly early around 1980 or so I think. I am not sure exactly when though as I couldn’t find any history of it on the web. If any one knows, please do share the info with us.

  5. Pingback: Daily SG: 14 Feb 2013 | The Singapore Daily

  6. Tan Ah Huat says:

    Unfortunately, Singaporeans are stingey! Fact! In Hong Kong, the same 10% “Service Charge” is levied, but people still leave a tip. Not so Singapore. I have worked in both countries. Average tips in Hong Kong is 5%. In Singapore, you’d be lucky to get 1%

    • It is unfair to call Singaporeans stingy. I dont see hongkongers tipping in general too except in better restaurants. It is also a matter of cultivating the habit once the 10% is scrapped and tipping is reintroduced.

  7. Araffad says:

    I werk in various out n restaurant, bar n club, but when come to on the menu states ++. but the service charge will go to the company . not the staff, as the staff provide service. n also it kinda tedious to expaln to the customer about the ++ thingy . plzz abolish the service charge for good

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