Celine Asril

Writer | Editor | Strategist | Consultant

Creator, curator and consultant for quality print and digital content

Writes about sustainability, food, drink and travel

Filtering by Tag: Singapore

Why Singaporeans should all wait on tables once in our lives

Singaporean kids should learn to serve the country, and not just in army greens.

Entitled and sheltered, a lot of them would do well learning to wait.

I'm not talking about exercising patience, I'm talking about waiting tables, and how this is a misrepresented, misunderstood and belittled career path for those living in Singapore.

Why? Because a good portion of Singaporeans are classist snobs who find pleasure in the pseudo power we hold over others in daily servitude, and that character is rubbing off on our kids (we know, we’ve been treated this way).

“Because a good portion of Singaporeans are classist snobs who find pleasure in the pseudo power we hold over others in daily servitude."

I'm of the belief that waiting tables would make men out of boys, and women out of girls. I'd even go as far as betting that we would turn into a society of gentlemen and ladies if we put them through the experience, which must count as a life skill.

Surely, with our crop of demanding diners, the conversion rate will be high.

When it comes to dining out, Singaporeans don't make easy diners. We are a demanding, back-breaking, thankless lot: we expect service to be swift, precise and detailed, and all about us. We demand attention at all times, and the free glass of iced water to arrive immediately. What we don't realise is this: in general, waiters and waitresses that are employed have not been properly trained and probably never will be.

It is a gross generalisation but waiting tables is generally typecast as a thankless, tiresome task seen as unambitious and unsustainable - so why should employers invest in proper training when their staff is largely transitory?

And the feeling is mutual: waitstaff have little to motivate them. The pay is generally low (Sakae Sushi hit bigtime news when they offered to pay dishwashers $3,000 a month), the hours are long, and staff are employed without proper training so they are expected to learn on the job. If they make a mistake however, they get the blame. In some cases, they get fired on the spot.

As the saying goes, “You pay peanuts, you get monkeys”. Well Singapore, we get what we pay for: our service industry will never be up to scratch with such low rates, and owners perpetuating the job’s degraded status with poor work conditions. Ours is a society that employs 7 per cent (129,300) of its working population to be in the food service industry.

This despite diners who take it for granted that restaurants should be open throughout weekends and public holidays and throw up our hands and feet when a restaurant is not open (tip: make an online reservation). It’s ironic and hypocritical that the service industry's labour force is so ill-rewarded, ill-equipped, fleeting and scrutinised.

Tiong Bahru cleaner uncle

And what about their (lack of) medical benefits?

It’s not that we are not aware of the back-breaking duties and ailments that come from standing on the feet for eight hours (if you’re lucky) straight - it's that we don't wish to acknowledge it; it's easier to ignore the wire-bent 70-year-old grandmother who cleans up our mess from our tables at the hawker centre, and claims she wants to work rather than stay at home. How much is she paid? Likely $30 for an eight-hour day, and that is not enough.

And really, why would any of us want to work minimum wage (which does not exist in Singapore) to be ignored, bossed around and slighted by our peers? There aren't even tips to look forward to counting. We'd instead like to skip to living (what seems to be increasingly) the Singaporean Dream – owning a restaurant so we can continue to hire the young and old at low wages to perpetuate this cycle again.

No wonder we have to hire foreign labour to help us fill those spots. Instead of being grateful that our neighbours look to us for a brighter future, we blame them for taking the jobs we despise, and then gripe about them griping about us.

Kindness begets kindness, Singapore. Don't diss the waitstaff until you've worked a day in their shoes.

So here's what I propose: consider making all youths between the age of 15 to 19 wait on tables - let the National Service (NS) boys do their duty in this sector; and girls do their form of NS or meet their co-curricular requirements (baby steps...) in this manner. We'd all learn to have a little more respect for others, have a little more patience and practice some humility.

Besides, with 126,800 girls in this age bracket, we can solve at least this sector's labour woes.

How to be a foodie in Singapore

Think Singapore is the best city for food? So do the rest of its food-savvy population, and a growing number of the food-obsessed who are also unabashedly opinionated about it.

Get with the program - we show you how you can blend in with the restless makan-centric (‘eat-centric’) denizens and where you can give your two cents’ worth in less than ten steps:

1. Do not leave home without a packet of tissues
This – and two cameras – make up the arsenal of a Singapore foodie. By that we mean at least one packet of tissue papers (see point number 2), a pocket-sized digital camera (or phone camera) and an SLR camera. Do not panic if you’ve left your wipes at home – hunt down the tissue auntie, or uncle, at the hawker centre and beat the rest of the chope-ers.
Tip: The going rate for tissue papers is three packets for $1; bargain only if they’re peddling three for $2 – any price lower and you’re cheap and uncouth.

2. ‘Chope’ 
‘Chope’. For the uninitiated, it’s a Singlish term for ‘hold a seat’ and has to be pronounced and done with some aggression; wishy-washiness will leave you hungry, literally. Start by getting to the hawker centre or food court, hone in on an empty seat, and swiftly leave your tissue packet on the table. You have now chope-d your seat and can roam the stalls to your stomach’s content. Hawker centre and food court diners know to abide by this code and you’ll be able to come back to your unclaimed seat with your tray of hot piping food
Tip: Chope-ing is most efficiently done solo, never try to chope a chope-d seat, and don’t do this at restaurants.

3. Wear comfortable shoes
See next point.
Tip: Floors do get slippery so for once Crocs may actually apply. 

4. Always join the long queues
Long queues equals good food – that’s a formula that almost never fails. You might doubt your ability to gauge the quality of a stall, but the dozens of hungry and eager Singaporeans can’t be wrong. If the food is bad, at least you have fodder for points numbers 5 and 8.
Tip: Get a conversation going with a fellow queue-mate so you suss out the secret special by the time it is your turn.

Food photo taken with the iPhone instagram app, Hefe filter applied   

Food photo taken with the iPhone instagram app, Hefe filter applied


5. Social media before eating

Contrary to what mother says, do let your food get cold. There are a few social media points Singapore foodies need to hit before tucking in: at the most basic level, you have to tweet, update your Facebook status and post one, or more, mouth-watering photo(s) of the dish on Instagram (these can be linked so one post will update all three outlets simultaneously). We like the ‘Hefe’ filter on Instagram, but hey, whatever looks most enticing. At the intermediate level, whip out the digital SLR and take close-up high-res shots for further documentation to be posted as Facebook notes, on the personal food blog or website.
Tip: Instagram’s black and white filter tends to kill hungry desires - do not use.

6. It’s okay to talk with your mouth full
Singaporeans are so passionate about food you can’t shut them up, even when they’re supposed to be enjoying the food. So don’t try to beat them, join them, and learn to use the right words: ‘delicious’ is passé – ‘shiok’ (Singlish expression for happiness and pleasure), ‘sedap’ (Malay for ‘delicious) and ‘jelak’ (Malay for ‘bored’, also a Singlish expression for the feeling of monotony and heaviness a dish brings about) are good starting points. It also helps that you know the ingredients in the native language. For example, fermented prawn paste is ‘belacan’ in the Malay language. Another important term to know is ‘dabao’ (Mandarin for ‘takeaway’) – for busy mealtimes during which you can’t find a seat and need to eat at the desk. Don’t forget to post on your social media accounts before you tuck in, and try not to project(ile) your chews.
Tip: If all the above foodie vocab isn’t impressive enough, just let out a loud burp – it’s considered polite to do so in India, China, Canada and Germany.

7. Be generous, show off
Singapore foodies are competitive, but they’re also a generous bunch and fortunately these qualities do meet in various outlets: aside from talking about makan achievements over the dining table, stunning, saliva-inducing pictures, reviews and comments of restaurants and dining establishments can be posted on community websites.
Tip: HungryGoWhere.com is our choice (for obvious reasons), and it’s not simply for sharing reviews – our sister site and app give us accurate, on-the-ground recommendations on where to eat.

8. Do stare
At the food on the next table – this is a sure-fire way to find out what you should order. But please, if you have questions, ask the diner – they won’t bite (you); most locals are friendly and will give you more ordering tips than you ask for.
Tip: Be friendly enough and you might even end up sitting with them, making point number 2 obsolete.

9. It’s never too early to eat
Being full is never an excuse; a conscientious Singapore foodie knows it’s never too early to plan your next meal, and thus not premature to start staring down new leads. How to succeed in good Singapore eating without really trying: keep talking to friends, competitors and strangers – you never know where your next meal will come from.
Tip: And read HungryGoWhere.com for all the best recommendations on what to eat and drink in Singapore.