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Speech at Restaurant Association of Singapore (RAS) Epicurean Star Award Gala Dinner 2016

Minister for Manpower, Mr Lim Swee Say, Raffles City Convention Centre

Mr Vincent Tan, President, RAS

Mr Andrew Tjioe, President Advisor, RAS

Management Committee and Members of RAS

Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen

Good evening.

  1. First of all, I’d like to congratulate tonight’s award winners, even though we will only know who they are later this evening. 
  2. Some people live to eat, others eat to live.
  3. But I am sure we all agree that food will always have a special place in our stomach, and in our hearts.   
  4. To enjoy a good meal, we need good food, a good cook and good service.
  5. This is not a trivial challenge, given our tight labour market situation.
  6. We have heard of some established restaurants going out of business recently, not because they did not have enough customers, but because they could not find enough staff.
  7. This is sad for the owners, and their loyal customers too.
  8. Today, there are 160,000 workers working in 15,600 F&B establishments. And they are ageing at a faster rate than the national average.
  9. Attracting our young to join the F&B industry will also not be easy. With better education and higher expectations, they have options.
  10. Indeed, competition for local manpower will only get keener across all sectors as our local workforce heads towards zero growth in the next decade. 
  11. If we continue business as usual, if better food and better service can only be made possible with more staff, then manpower will become the bottleneck of growth in the future F&B industry. 
  12. This manpower challenge we all face will not go away. In fact, it will only get more challenging in the future.
  13. The only way out for all of us is to transform our economy and businesses to become more manpower-lean.
  14. It is therefore encouraging that the F&B industry is responding.
  15. Fei Siong Group runs several outlets in malls, food courts and hawker centres specialising in local food.
  16. With self-payment machines at its outlets and even hawker centres, workers no longer have to switch between handling food and money.
  17. Fei Siong plans to introduce self-ordering as the next step. It shows that even our humble hawker centre can transform to be more manpower-lean in the future.
  18. Genki Sushi has implemented self-ordering and mechanised food delivery to save manpower.
  19. Customers place orders on iPads, food is then delivered to their tables on miniature “trains”.
  20. Customers, especially the children, like it. They find it fun, they enjoy the food more, and they spend more.
  21. To end it all, the tables have a built-in feature, making it easier for customers to return their plates.
  22. This indeed is good for business.  
  23. Our challenge is to make this manpower-lean mindset more pervasive.
  24. The tripartite partners and leaders in the F&B industry have therefore jointly launched the Food Services Industry Transformation Map (ITM) just recently.   
  25. The four key thrusts are:
    1. Innovating with new business formats;
    2. Driving productivity through mass adoption of technology;
    3. Re-skilling workers to take on value-added roles; and
    4. Expanding Singapore food companies internationally.
  26. Companies that are keen to join the transformation journey do not have to go at it alone.
  27. They can approach SPRING and Workforce Singapore for one-stop funding support.
  28. As the tripartite body for the F&B industry, RAS is playing a very important role in helping to speed up the pace of transformation in the sector.
  29. One interesting project facilitated by RAS with the support of SPRING and Workforce Singapore under the Lean Enterprise Development Scheme (LEDS for short) is the Gratify Group project.
  30. The Gratify Group wants to expand, but is constrained by the shortage of manpower. 
  31. The group’s owner, Mr Frank Lau, decided to think out of the box.
  32. He drew inspiration from a design thinking workshop organised by the Singapore Productivity Centre and the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (now Workforce Singapore).
  33. He also joined a trip to an international food machinery and technology exhibition in Japan organised by the RAS. 
  34. He then embarked on a journey of comprehensive transformation, and introduced an innovative and manpower-lean concept under its new branding – “Omoomodon”.
  35. With a central kitchen, automation, and redesigning of menu and work processes, the F&B outlet has streamlined food preparation without compromising on quality and taste.
  36. The company also redesigned its outlets to minimise kitchen space, reduce operational footprint and maximise space for customers to enjoy their meals.
  37. They built an integrated self-service ordering and payment system. Cashiering no longer requires dedicated staff.   
  38. Staff are then crossed-trained to prepare food and attend to customers.
  39. To make the workplace more age-friendly, it has in place a self-collection and return tray system to minimise the need for older workers to move around carrying heavy loads.
  40. Older staff are also not required to handle cash, which tends to strain their eyes.  
  41. Thanks to these measures, productivity has improved, and customers also enjoy better food and better services.
  42. Manpower needed for the new outlet was reduced by up to 60%.
  43. The Gratify Group shows us that it is indeed possible to deliver good food, better service with leaner manpower, for the benefit of the customers, workers and the company. 
  44. I hope more companies will take the bold step forward, transform to be more manpower-lean, and grow into the Lean Enterprises of the future.
  45. Today, as we celebrate the achievements of RAS and the award recipients, let us also set our sight to succeed and grow in the future.    
  46. The F&B industry has always been a challenging industry. It was and will never be for the faint-hearted.
  47. Restaurant owners and chefs are innovative and resilient people, who keep producing amazing culinary creations, year after year.   
  48. As we strive to be more future-ready today, I am confident that with all parties working together – the industry, Government and workers - we can sustain the growth and maintain the vibrancy of our F&B industry, one of the many things that makes us uniquely Singapore.  
  49. So on that note, I wish you all the very best, as we transform, adapt and grow together. Thank you very much.