Kaya toast lowers Singapore’s productivity, part 1

Thank heavens for McDonald’s. They’ve given me an opening I needed to get something off my chest. Not about McDonald’s, but about productivity and about this:

(Note: the above photo was not taken at a Kopitiam foodcourt)

Improving productivity was the angle in the McDonald’s story. The fast food chain in Singapore has introduced a machine that dispenses frozen fries into deep-frying baskets automatically, eliminating the work that used to be done by hand. This and other improvements in work processes, reported the Straits Times on 26 March 2011, will mean “substantial” pay rises for its staff.

I’m not going to delve into how substantial is substantial, for that is not the point of this article.

The issue here is Singapore’s dismal productivity, for which this is one of two articles. This first one takes a snapshot of the issue at a micro level from an experience many of us share — eating out at a foodcourt. And here’s the example that gets my goat every time:

Ever since the chain of heartlander cafes called Ya Kun Kaya Toast proved how popular its eggs-toast-coffee/tea combo was, foodcourts have jumped into the act. The Kopitiam chain of foodcourts — or at least several branches that I have come across — added this product offer to their beverage counters a few years back. The problem with this combo is that it cannot be prepared in advance. The toast has to be made fresh and the eggs boiled on request. It is labour-intensive (the margarine and kaya jam have to be spread by hand) and time-consuming. Adding a toasting grill and a stock of eggs further clutters the already congested workspace.

The worst disruption however is to queue satisfaction. What do I mean by that?

Previously, the beverage counter sold only beverages. Canned drinks transactions could be done in under 15 seconds. Hot beverages like coffee and tea took a little longer, maybe 20 – 30 seconds, for two cups. Rapidity in transactions is important because in a typical foodcourt, there is only one drinks stall. A foodcourt’s hundreds of customers are distributed across a large number of (non-beverage) food stalls, so each stall gets a smallish number of customers, and they therefore have the luxury of time to prepare each dish fresh. A majority of the hundreds of customers however converge on the single drinks stall for their drinks, often forming queues in front of it. Hence, unlike the food stalls, the beverage counter has to be able to transact rapidly.

Adding the kaya toast combo to the product offer was a disaster. If the customer at the head of the queue orders a combo or two, the worker is diverted away for 2 – 3 minutes preparing the order. The queue stops moving. If the next guy also orders a combo, it’s another 2 – 3 minutes added to the waiting time of those behind.

There have been occasions when, joining an eight-person queue resulted in a queuing time of  8 – 10 minutes just to buy a canned drink — a transaction that needed only 7 seconds.

Sometimes, the cashier doesn’t prepare the order herself. She shouts it out to a co-worker to prepare the order. This may work in theory, but in practice, communication skills are so bad among middle-aged “aunties”, they make a lot of mistakes when transferring orders. (I won’t go into an analysis of why that happens though I have spent some time observing them and have made several unflattering conclusions about “auntie” work behaviour.) The nett result is still the same. Additional time is required to sort out confusion and mistakes; the queue does not move any faster after factoring in the extra labour force behind the counter.

I notice that some food courts have now discontinued selling this from their beverage counter. Instead, a separate stall is set up specialising in kaya toast. They must have realised how counter-productive it was. But Kopitiam does not seem to have done their time-motion studies.

Beyond the issue of queue dissatisfaction lies the problem of productivity. Whenever time is wasted, productivity falls, because at the end of the day the output is still the same, only that more time has been invested to achieve it. The clutter on the countertop, the women getting into each other’s way as they try to handle three or four orders concurrently, and the time spent correcting mistakes all lower productivity. Add to that the customers’ time wasted while standing helplessly in a queue and on a macro societal level, productivity falls again.

* * * * *

Another mystery is why foodcourts still sell beverages by hand. Why haven’t they followed the example of the Subway chain of sandwich cafes where, upon payment, you’re just given an empty cup. The customer goes to  the soft-drink dispenser and helps himself.

No doubt foodcourt operators might be concerned about dosage control. Wouldn’t customers abuse it and refill their cups? So what? Managers should look at the bigger picture. Think of the manpower savings. In any case, how many people really want to get fat on soda? Alternatively, foodcourts could install vending machines that dispense canned drinks. There are even machines today that dispense hot drinks. With cashcards ubiquitous in Singapore, customers don’t even need to make payment at a counter.

With all these obvious possibilities, I’m thoroughly stumped why we continue to sell drinks in such a labour-intensive manner.

* * * * *

Then there’s an army of cleaners. We could achieve the same standard of hygiene with fewer cleaners at food courts and coffee shops if only customers did not mess up the tables. Partly, the cleaning demands are created by bad social behaviour — a quick glance at any fastfood restaurant will remind you how bad things are —  but partly too, the foodcourt stalls and management are to blame.

For example, if they know that the dish has bones or other disposables, then they should provide an extra saucer to contain them. At least the woman in the picture at left took the trouble to make a tidy heap out of her inedibles; others do not bother.

Providing an extra saucer is not rocket science. There is surely something very wrong with our companies’ managements that such a practice is virtually unheard of.

* * * * *

In Part 2, I will discuss this from a macro perspective, but I felt it was important to first discuss this from the ground up. In talking about productivity, the government has often spoken about training and automation (e.g. a machine that discharges frozen fries into hot oil). Certainly, these are important steps, but we too easily forget that there are plenty of simple things that would produce results and yet are not done.

More importantly, low productivity is also an outcome of our own social behaviour as I have illustrated above, and which I will mention again in Part 2. This is something the government is going to find very hard to tell us or to correct; we no longer like a government to lecture us on our behaviour. That only means it has to be one Singaporean telling another: Hey people, sometimes the way we do things, it’s damn stupid.

72 Responses to “Kaya toast lowers Singapore’s productivity, part 1”

  1. 1 Anonymous 24 May 2011 at 04:15

    I am absolutely aghast that you hold the soulless efficiency Macdonald’s up as a role model for how we should live. I have not patronised a fast food outlet in 20 years because it detracts from my quality of life.

    Agree that there is severe overemployment, but without that there would be UNemployment.

    • 2 Gard 24 May 2011 at 16:53

      Actually, I quite like Alex’s opening. If I were to write this in Hong Kong, it would be also about McDonald’s.

      “For $400, you can now marry at a Hong Kong McDonald’s”
      Source: http://www.everydaymoney.ca/2010/10/for-400-you-can-now-marry-at-a-hong-kong-mcdonalds.html

      Economists (or those who study growth economics) have long studied Singapore and Hong Kong because they are so different and yet so similar.

      I hope I am not stealing any points in advance for Part 2; but economists have long connected ‘competition’ to ‘productivity’ at firm-level and economy-wide studies. Closer to the frontier of research is field humorously called ‘bossonomics’. But rational choice economists have traditionally been unhappy about pinning productivity differences on management practices because better management practices, which are typically not considered undiscoverable secrets by competitors, should have transferred over time.

      We have McDonald’s in Singapore and in Hong Kong. Which initiative (french-frier or fast-food wedding) do you think can transfer faster to the other?

  2. 3 nihaoma 24 May 2011 at 06:51

    A good post. I would also like to contribute my own experience.

    Even though I have not step into the working world yet, I already can tell that from experience that Singapore workers spent a lot of time doing unproductive activities.

    During school days, it was already obvious that our teachers spend a lot of unproductive time on doing lots of admin work and CCAs commitment.

    When I was working part time for a company, it was very obvious that the company was poorly managed, resulting in workers doing a lot of unproductive paperwork, similar to SAF. One Ang Mo expat remarked to me that the problem with Singapore managers on the whole, lack leadership skills and therefore unable to lead and manage effectively.

  3. 4 Caculon 24 May 2011 at 07:10

    Donno what to make of this… Isn’t this trifle banality of daily drudgery? ¬_¬ queuing for food. What this got to do with productivity?

    Personally I prefer those french toast, I had those at Kopitiam, indeed I had to wait, but of course it was delicious.

    The only conclusion I can make, we need robots, lots of them, autonomous cleaner, tireless, not to mention novelty, instead of slow and retiring seniors on the cheap, requiring reeducation in work ethics.

    Technology is the ultimate multiplier of productivity.

  4. 5 anony 24 May 2011 at 08:25

    In Taiwan & Japan, in public eating areas they sit around the stall holder so that he/she can have control over the state of cleanliness of the common dining tables & chairs belonging to the stall holder.

    If you look at Taiwan, it also has a large predominant Chinese population but they are able to clean up after themselves. Its the ergonomics here, the way the stall hawkers are set up. Perhaps sitting close to other strangers put them on guard so they watch their table manners: make sure that their immediate surface areas are clean.

    There is no incentive to increase productivity when the govt here actively encourages the employment of low skilled labour especially from China & India.

    1)Where is the incentive to introduce industrial dishwashing machines in food courts?
    2) Where is the incentive to implement industrial steam cleaners to disinfect foodcourts or hawker centers?

  5. 6 Gard 24 May 2011 at 09:22

    If your article was written more than twenty years ago, the monarchy would have gladly roped you into her productivity campaign.

    “Productivity is the result of the education of our people and their culture…. Growth in capital investments alone cannot achieve the full potential without improved work attitudes, teamwork, company loyalty and industrial relations. It is the man behind the machine that will make for unending productivity increases.”
    – Lee Kuan Yew, Productivity Month, 1 Nov 1988

    I look forward to your Part 2. And I have chosen to read your last statement explicitly as ‘… it has to be one Singaporean *faciliating* another to question the way we do things.’

  6. 7 ayu 24 May 2011 at 09:41

    Couldn’t agree more with your take on the kaya toast jamming up queues matter. Was at a Kopitiam once on a Saturday morning, I was at a queue for drinks after I finished my food. My mom started on her food later than me thinking that I can get her a drink. Alas, when she finished her food, I wasn’t even halfway through the queue just because a few customers ordered the cheap $2 toast+egg+drink set.

    Urghz, time wasting indeed!

  7. 8 Me 24 May 2011 at 10:01

    In a society where the government firmly believes in workfare instead of welfare, increasing productivity will lead to ‘job loss’ for the ‘low educated’ old generation. An auntie works in a coffee shop preparing toast is better than an auntie stay home taking care of the grand children. Again, the problem lies in the obsession with numbers instead of recognizing a civilized, happy society is more important than higher GDP growth alone.

    Today’s ST’s claim that Singaporean’s prefer economic growth to freedom of speech is simply laughable. First of all, these two are not even related. Secondly, we have all seen what happened with a blind chase for growth without parallel improvement on civil rights in history…

  8. 9 Hun Boon 24 May 2011 at 10:05

    Refreshing change of topic.

    Well, I’m sure anyone who have purchased drinks at Kopitiam during the breakfast peak hour would have noticed the same phenomenon.

    I agree that there should be a separate queue for drinks orders. However, selling it the “labour-intensive” way as you put it is a consequence of the type of drinks we sell. We don’t just sell soft drinks, but coffee and tea too, and those can’t be done through vending machines or Subway-style.

    Providing an extra plate for bones is pointless if customers don’t use them. Change is hard, and our culture of not clearing our own plates will not go away for a long time. Operators simply have to work with this in mind.

    • 10 Chris 24 May 2011 at 18:00

      We don’t just sell soft drinks, but coffee and tea too, and those can’t be done through vending machines or Subway-style.

      I respectfully beg to differ on the coffee/tea situation. In the bar of a Masonic Lodge building that I go to regularly, there is a coffee machine which produces fantastic coffee. This particular machine (I won’t mention the name of the coffee) is coin operated, but a coffee/tea counter that had a machine like this could be put in a separate place in the food court. It would remove people from the beverage queue who only wanted coffee or tea.

    • 11 k 2 June 2011 at 01:40

      In one of the canteens at NTU, coffee/tea are put in tin dispensers and you have to get it yourself. But can ask the auntie for milk for teh-c/kopi-c or kosong.

  9. 12 Anonymous 24 May 2011 at 10:10

    With all these obvious possibilities, I’m thoroughly stumped why we continue to sell drinks in such a labour-intensive manner.

    I do believe that the “stalls” are being “outsourced”/”rented” out no?

  10. 14 shoutloud 24 May 2011 at 10:12

    Hi Alex, I think this is an excellent article and to me, it reflects a core problem of easy access to foreign labour.

    The management of these food outlets have absolutely zero incentives to innovate and plan because their bosses will go to MOM and complain about Singaporeans not willing to do their dirty jobs for pittance.

    These same bosses do not sit down and wonder how they can improve their services. It is more of the same for them.

    I remember years back, PSB and NTUC tried to promote job redesign but that failed mainly because

    1. It is very hard to redesign job
    2. Foreign labour is very accessible
    3. The civil servants are just paper pushers; they simply do not have the sales management skills to sell concepts

    I seriously think we have to stop issuing all those work passes and implement a new way of issuing such passes. MOM is really useless. Same goes for WDA.

    • 15 Poker Player 24 May 2011 at 13:10

      “bosses will go to MOM and complain about Singaporeans not willing to do their dirty jobs for pittance.”


      Any job, no matter how dirty, will have takers for a high enough salary. Everything has a price-tag.

      We seem happy to apply the logic of supply and demand to everything except “dirty jobs”. There is hard-wired gene in Singaporeans that says that certain jobs deserve only certain levels of renumeration. If the supply is low, rather than increasing the prices, we flood the market.

      We don’t do this to banks, law firms,lawyers and (until sometime in the 90’s) telecom companies.

  11. 16 Poker Player 24 May 2011 at 10:16

    “This and other improvements in work processes, reported the Straits Times on 26 March 2011, will mean “substantial” pay rises for its staff.”

    This is not how it works. The savings go directly to the bottom line and executive bonuses. Employers will pay workers whatever they can get away with – the bargaining power of the employee determines it. Productivity improvements that have nothing to do with the skill levels or experience of the employee don’t increase that bargaining power.

  12. 17 stanley fong 24 May 2011 at 10:20

    yes, i agree with you that food court serving kaya toast kept their customers waiting.

    However, this is not the same experience that I had when I patronized Ah Kun; they had actually bothered to do a time and motion study and reduced the time required to serve up a kaya toast and egg set to about 30 seconds. If you don’t believe me, visit an Ah Kun outlet have kaya toast and egg set for breakfast and you wouldn’t be frustrated by waiting.

    • 18 Philip 24 May 2011 at 21:17

      I’ve heard that the eggs are actually half-boiled beforehand, then simply warmed up before serving – that’s how they achieve the time savings. Anyone else heard this too?

  13. 19 liew kai khiun 24 May 2011 at 10:57

    I remember there was a short lived attempt to promote the culture of “self service” in the 1980s where we used to clear our plates from the newly opened fast food joints and pump our own petrol (I did that merrily for my dad’s car). It was the time where automated car washes and the “One Man Operated (OMO) bus services came in without that of the bus conductors. However, the easy availability of cheap foreign labour have reversed this trends, and we simply stopped clearing our dishes at food courts, and left it to people to pump and wash our cars. It is ironic that for its high tech image, the Singapore economy is very much labour intensive in an unfortunately unproductive way..

  14. 20 wl 24 May 2011 at 11:16

    Hi I just want to add a comment on the part about the social behavior of our diners at food courts and fast food places. I feel that our young people are quite well acquainted with the idea of returning their dishes/trays (with their uneaten or inedible portions)after consuming their food. This rule has been enforced and been instilled in the students in all schools and institutions of learning. Given this I don’t know why the authorities or the management of such eateries do not take advantage of this habit which should have been formed after 10 -15 years of school. When I tried to return my tray at the food court, I couldn’t find any place or racks allocated for this. So since this setup is not available most people will just leave their trays on the tables. And after a while it becomes “monkey see monkey do” attitude for everyone.

    • 21 k 2 June 2011 at 01:45

      Agreed. Most canteens in schools have places for students to return plates and utensils; in fact it’s a must for students. We do it automatically after eating…
      Outside however, we just follow the adults’ lead and leave them on the table for the cleaners.

  15. 22 HAHAH 24 May 2011 at 11:18

    I think Singaporean employer mindset is this:

    Add more product = make more money.

    If I can employ cheap labour to make the product, who cares if customers have to wait?

    I already have ‘captive’ customers who have no choice but buy from my drink stall (since they already have bought food from the same food court.

    • 23 yawningbread 24 May 2011 at 12:29

      You wrote: “I think Singaporean employer mindset is this: Add more product = make more money.”

      Proof is easily seen by walking around the mom-and-pop shops in housing estates. The typical shop is crammed full of merchandise, stocked haphazardly, spilling out onto sidewalk. Clearly no one has heard of aligning stocking with demand pattern; nor does anyone seem to realise that the reason few customers walk into the shop is because it is so cluttered.

      As I said: Sometimes the way we do things, it’s damn stupid.

      • 24 HAHAH 24 May 2011 at 12:49

        No No.. Mom and Pop shops are different. They stock products to sell.

        Coffee shop/ Food court make products to sell.

        If for the price of some inefficency, I make more money by making my staff serve ice cream (for example).

        Why not? I just need to make sure i make money deducting the extra costs of staff.

        Serving my customers fast don’t really matter to me, as long as as no complaints (Singaporeans don’t protest that much)

        So it becomes a case of Ya Kun (who started off selling coffee/tea and toast) to diversifying to sell Mee Siam, Mee Rubus etc.

        Classic example here:

        In a coffee shop similar to Ya Kun, there’s 2 stations.
        Station 1: Drinks, Eggs are served here
        Station 2: Hot Food – Noodles,Nasi Lemak, Toast made here.

        Every Morning, as most office workers buy drinks, there is a backlog of work at Station 1, and Station 2 is relatively free.

        The result, people who order noodles get their noodles first, while drinks come much much later.

        This is profits over efficiency.

  16. 25 Queenstown-ian 24 May 2011 at 11:22

    One more thing. I have stopped eating kaya toast combo from kaya toast chains like Ya Kun, Killiney etc for over three years now. I am prepared to pay but I cannot accept the sharp decline in toast standards in recent years.

    A drop in standard while price is hiked or remains the same is also decline in productivity.

  17. 26 ~autolycus 24 May 2011 at 12:04

    A similar thing has occurred in education. Huge chunks of time are taken up by ‘remedial’ work created by bad teaching in the first place. Time and resources invested in improving teaching capability would reduce the time and resources wasted downstream in ‘remedials’ consisting of reteaching the same stuff over and over again. By the nature of the intense repetition of most ‘remedials’, those who pass because of such work learn to do things by rote and formula rather than by critical and creative thinking.

    • 27 yawningbread 24 May 2011 at 12:34

      Sometimes, remedial work is not done at all. A majority end up joining the workforce with sub-optimal language and communication skills. I used to spend precious time just correcting the grammar and spelling in letters to customers, etc, written by juniors, in a desperate effort to maintain the company’s image.

      Communication skills are so bad that they cause a lot of mistakes, e.g. orders passed by salesmen to the delivery department are misunderstood; discounts for customers are poorly written out, resulting in misinterpretation and loads of disputes.

      You see poor communication skills even in some comments on this site. Many Singaporeans do not speak/write clearly.

      And don’t get me started on cringe-worthy sales presentations!

      • 28 Poker Player 24 May 2011 at 12:50

        How on earth did we ever get our “international” reputation for “educational excellence”? And to think that some of us actually take it seriously!

      • 29 yoyo 24 May 2011 at 21:12

        I’m inclined to believe that language skills are by and large inborn – you either have the gray matter for it or you don’t.
        I’ve friends in university who are great mathematicians but suck at English – many can’t write proper sentences.
        So don’t be too harsh on your commenters 😉

      • 30 sieteocho 2 June 2011 at 17:32

        I think it is not always true that people in Singapore don’t have the grey matter to be really good at language. I think that culturally Singaporeans do not have great respect for the mastery of the language, for various reasons. They either confuse expediency with efficiency, which means that if you bother to express yourself clearly you are expending effort that is better off spent somewhere else. Or they have the attitude that English is a white man’s language and therefore no need to be too respectful of it. And of course it has always been in the interest of people in authority that people don’t always think very deeply, clearly or precisely about issues, so that it becomes so much easier to pull the wool over their eyes.

  18. 31 david 24 May 2011 at 12:41

    MacDonalds doesn’t turn to US Gov’t to help increase its productivity and come out with new innovations.

    Take as an example, many years ago when they were thinking of introducing pizza at all its worldwide outlets. They spent millions on the study but rejected the idea finally because they found that it would cost them tens of millions of dollars to modify the drive-in counter to allow the piza to pass through.

    US companies do not turn to US Gov’t for assistance for productivity and innovation issues.

  19. 32 Zilla 24 May 2011 at 12:42

    I blame the kiasu mindset that pervades the entire country, not just in the workplace, our food courts but at home as well. Drink vendors are so adverse to “losing out” by offering self-service dispensers that they rather hire more hands. Employers scrimp on home appliances because they don’t see the need to help their maids be more productive. The end result is stagnating productivity where output is driven by pouring inputs like brute labour.
    What’s lacking is a spirit of generousity, that it is ok to make work easier for employees such that they will have time to think how to improve work processes and increase productivity. Instead, everyone is flooded with busy work, mostly stupid work.
    Few years back, there was talk of job redesign. Technology to make cleaning jobs more attractive and productive. Cleaners were able to clean a larger area and were paid more, attracting more locals. Now, we hire armies of cheap foreign labour for cleaning, depressing wages and making the jobs less attractive to the locals. What happen to job redesign?

  20. 33 Rabbit 24 May 2011 at 13:08

    Another suggestion is to have auntie pushing trolleys (Dim Sum style) and sell soft drinks like those I witnessed in food republic at orchard road. No queuing is needed; just buy on the spot when the auntie comes to you.

    Low productivity also added unnecessary stress to Singaporeans. Imagine after waited for 8-10 minutes and than you can’t find a seat or even ended up eating hastily because precious times have been wasted just to fill our stomach. Another common scene in NTUC super mart, cashier loves to chat with their customers and while they are at it, their pace slowed and aggravated if customers tried to reciprocate. Most of the so-called “ugly scenes” can be seen at the counter. Such as allowing customer to take their time to fill up membership application forms, tear discount coupons and customer taking time to search for membership cards in wallet while the queue remained long.

    In the past when our population was not so high, low productivity is bearable because time wasted was not so stretched. Unfortunately, the increased population was not prepared for all these. 10 years ago, you have one cashier, 10 years later nothing much has changed regardless of our increased populations.

    Instead of having two people serving one counter (one simply put item in grocery bags), it is more productive to have two cashier counters manned by one person each. I think the latter will be more productive since the cost is the same (wage of two employees). Than again we can’t tell what lies beneath the boss’s mind and probably they have already worked out the cheapest method for the company at the expense of productivity and consumer conveniences. We can never be first world country with such mentality, can we?

    While I am typing this, there is one bangala worker sitting at the workstation near to the toilet – doing nothing – except to clear dustbins for the office twice a day and buying coffee for the boss if he steps in. So much for being productive for an added head in our population. I must emphasized I am not against true foreign talent but can’t help feeling something is not right now.

    • 34 yawningbread 24 May 2011 at 14:04

      In supermarkets in many western countries, the customer bags his own purchases. In Singapore, we stand around like kings, while the cashier bags it for us. So in the time taken by the cashier in Singapore to serve 3 customers, he/she could have served five. Here lies another example why low productivity is not just a question of automation and capital investment of $$$$$. Much of it lies in our culture and work ethic.

      • 35 Chow 24 May 2011 at 14:46

        Well, yes and no. In certain supermarkets (perhaps they were the more upscale ones, I’m not enitrely sure)they have a second person to bag your purchases except in the express aisle. I must add that my experience is that if you pay by card in the same supermarket I visited, you swipe the card in the reader and hit the enter button yourself. That being said, they have several self-checkout stations as well which I think the new NTUC in Clementi Central has.

        My personal belief is that the availability of cheap labour and easy immigration is by and large the major culprit. At the same time, I believe that the tendency of delaying ‘real life’ for many of our children (ok, at least when I was a child) simply because we want them to focus on studying and getting into good schools is counter productive because it leads to a lack of awareness on our part to be able to prioritize, streamline, and make it more productive. This is simply because we’ve only (a) seen mother/dad do it one way (and we never had a chance to try, (b) been told to do it that way only in school because anything else makes it hell for the markers, or (c) been looking too hard for model answers.

        Oh, and seriously, did the attempt at remaking jobs die such a quiet death because of the demand for low cost labour? It feels as though we are in a race to the bottom!

      • 36 lp_radmd@yahoo.com 24 May 2011 at 15:31

        I have lived overseas and bagged my own groceries. When i came back and tried to do it here, I was rebuffed by the cashier – “it’s my job”. So now I just stand there….

      • 37 Caculon 24 May 2011 at 15:57

        I am not sure if such is considered as ‘low productivity’

        Would you consider targeting 10min GP consultation to reduce cost as necessary to improve productivity? Objectively because of waiting time?

        e.g. Self-checkout, one manned cashier can be replaced with 3 machine, would it work in Singapore? Bagging your grocery, would it not been expected for the customer? What is your measure of productivity, simply to save time? Increase throughput? Huh?

      • 38 Anonymous 24 May 2011 at 16:57

        When I was in Australia 15 years ago, I already noticed how the check out area was better designed than those we have now. The plastic bags were hanging on 2 metal rods, open and placed just below the scanner. After scanning, your purchase is simply dropped into the plastic bag. Here you have the cashier trying to keep the bag open and put your stuff in.

        I blamed all this on easy availabity of cheap labour.

      • 39 SG 24 May 2011 at 17:29

        It’s not true that if the customers bag the items themselves, the cashier can serves more people. I lived in Switzerland for 5 years. It was frustrating to see the cashier sitting waiting, doing nothing but talking while the customer bags her own items (especially those with full trolley-load). Cashier cannot serves the next customer till the previous customer has finished bagging her items because there’s not space for the cashier to put the next customer’s items. The cashier will just sit and talk and will not lift a single finger to help, ignoring the long queue of customers.

      • 40 Chris 24 May 2011 at 18:07

        In the US, your purchases at a supermarket are normally bagged by another employee, who will also normally take the shopping out to your car (if applicable) and might get a tip.

        Here in the UK, I almost always have to bag my own groceries. Then I have to walk by the gaggle of un- or underemployed youths outside the shopping centre. If Tesco hired some of these youths to bag groceries, the queues which sometimes stretch halfway down the aisles of the store would be much shorter.

        In Singapore, the shopowners don’t bother with hiring youths to bag–if they wanted someone to bag your groceries, they’d hire overseas workers, who would work for much less and wouldn’t depend upon tips, as Singaporeans don’t normally tip.

      • 41 Fox 28 May 2011 at 14:41


        I wouldn’t say that it’s the usual practice in the US to have another person bag your groceries and take it to your car. Maybe if you are handicapped but not for the average customer even in rather ‘posh’ places. In fact, I’ve never seen anyone done anything like that except with the handicapped.

  21. 42 Anonymous 24 May 2011 at 15:02

    I think your perception of efficiency in “western” countries is a bit off. I live in London, and shop weekly at Sainsbury’s supermarket. The speed at which NTUC processes customers at checkouts far exceeds anything I’ve seen here. Here, yes I pack my own bags, then I have to load them onto the trolley and fiddle around to get my money, swipe my cards, etc. and the checkout person will only start on the next customer when I have said nice things like “thank you and have a good weekend! Hope the good weather holds,” and fully cleared the aisle. (I don’t disagree with this practice, as it is more polite than hurrying the person along, just pointing out that it is not “efficient”.) When old ladies do their shopping, the checkout person asks if they need help with packing (actually this question is posed to every shopper and several times a year there are school kids e.g. scouts trying to raise money by offering to help pack your bags). Very often for old people, this is a “yes”, and then they ring some bell for a young chap to come help the old lady to pack, it takes 30-40 seconds for the person to show up and so on …. there are countless examples …

    • 43 Anon 24 May 2011 at 18:09

      efficiency vs graciousness trade-off here, and we know what the typical Singaporean would choose….

  22. 44 XYZ 24 May 2011 at 15:51

    Some argue that by not clearing their plates, they are providing employment. So if we clear our own tables and plates, aren’t some of the workers going to be unemployed?

    • 45 Poker Player 24 May 2011 at 16:04

      With people thinking like this, it’s no wonder we have to import so much of our workforce.

    • 46 Anon 24 May 2011 at 18:08

      But that same token, we should be less careful with our litter lest cleaners go out of job. Do not forget that cleaners can be deployed/re-deployed to more meaningful jobs if we all clean up after ourselves. However, if we continue to not clean after ourselves, workers will always be “allocated” to clean after us, a waste of human resource if you ask me.

      • 47 Poker Player 25 May 2011 at 10:03

        Notice how little effort is required to debunk XYZ’s claim. The reason for this belief being so widespread is that it allows people to believe that they can be charitable by just by being lazy.

    • 48 Mackinder 24 May 2011 at 20:05

      Not really, if he or she simply goes for an alternative job. That’s what training is for, isn’t it. The issue we face now is the implementation of alternative jobs along the same timeline as that portion of the workforce that has begun re-training and switching their skillsets.

      I personally don’t think it will be tough to move from clearing plates to operating dishwashers in the back kitchen.

      For e.g… 5 cleaners > 2 dishwashers > 2 machine technicians and 1 could retrain as a cashier?

  23. 49 Anon 24 May 2011 at 17:58

    Singapore’s low productivity and productivity growth, in certain sectors like food and construction industry, is due to the addiction to cheap labour.

    Conventional economics dictates that wages should increase only when productivity increases. Hence, if there is no productivity growth, wages cannot increase with undesirable effects (such as being less cost competitive).

    However, if industries find that they have a seemingly unlimited supply of cheap labour to tap on (like our relatively cheaper foreign labour), we can get addicted to these cheap labour and lose the impetus to improve productivity (& wages). If I can find extra hands (which are sufficiently cheap) to churn out more output, why bother to crack my head to find ways to innovate? Hence, the phenomenon of lagging productivity growth in food/construction industries.

  24. 50 Chris 24 May 2011 at 18:12

    I look forward to part 2 of this post. I like kaya toast/eggs/coffee and will go out of my way to have it when I’m in Singapore. I don’t particularly like queues, so when I do find myself in a slow queue, I will often leave.

    The way to get the shop/stallowners to change is to ostentatiously leave the queue when it moves too slowly and make sure that the staff notices that you’ve left. If they realise that they are losing sales they will innovate. Or, perhaps, those who realise they are losing sales and who innovate will make money, while those who do not will founder.

    Modern society, however, has seen to it that we wait patiently for whatever it is that we want, no matter how long the queue (ask Apple whether long queues have cut into their iPad/iPhone sales). This means that the shops can be lazy about filling orders.

    • 51 Roy 25 May 2011 at 15:22

      “The way to get the shop/stallowners to change is to ostentatiously leave the queue when it moves too slowly and make sure that the staff notices that you’ve left. If they realise that they are losing sales they will innovate. Or, perhaps, those who realise they are losing sales and who innovate will make money, while those who do not will founder.”

      I doubt that staff will feedback to the owners. The problem with local working culture — especially in the sales and customer service industry — is that the staffs are treated as a cog in the wheel. They have no ownership or a sense of identity to the place they work for and the reason for this is because staffs in these position have no career progression. i.e. they get the same at the end of every month whether they perform extremely well or enough to get by. Worse, many are here to work a few years before they go home or for the local aunties, they do not know when they will be replaced my cheaper and younger cogs.

      In short, when work relationship are purely transactional, and there is a lack of rewards for feedback, there will be no feedback.

  25. 52 stngiam 24 May 2011 at 21:28

    This is silly and way below your usual standards. What’s wrong with labour-intensive production ? How much more “unproductive” is a high-class hotel than a student hostel ? Which uses more labour ?

    The specific example you cite also has more to do with the quirks of Singapore’s F&B property market than with productivity per se. The reason the drink stall operator can get away with long queue times is that it usually has a monopoly in a food court. Other stalls have to reduce perceived queue time to prevent customers from going to another food stall, but the drink stall doesn’t have that problem.

    Don’t forget too, that apart from cofee and toast, the drink stall also often sells cut fruits, fruit juice, and hot and cold deserts. The same aunties are preparing all these products. Even for soft drinks, it continues to be possible to get a far wider range of canned and bottled drinks in Singapore than most Western countries because the manual stocking system allows a bigger range of products to be viable. Vending machines would inevitably lead to consolidation and reduced consumer choice. At the end of the day, it comes down to what is important to Singapore consumers. Price ? Choice ? Quality ?

    • 53 Chow 25 May 2011 at 00:34

      From what you have written, I would say that that quirk of the F&B property market really is that there appears to be limited spaces for F&B outlets among which we will have some serving kaya toast. This crowds out less successful players but also tends to favour those larger chains such as Ya Kun or Kopitiam who can affors the higher rents near prime spots that attract crowds. As you mentioned, even within the food court the drink stall does have the sole monopoly on drinks/kaya toast. Often they separate them as: Drinks+kaya toast vs fruits/juices+desserts. Of course management would most likely choose to staff it with minimum staff. In the case of the coffeeshop downstairs of my place, it is 4-6 drinks staff in the weekend mornings but 2-3 on weekend afternoons.

      In this manner I would think that streamlining and making sure that the process is as efficient as possible is essential to (1) cut waiting times to customers, (2) increase productivity. It is, of course, this point that I can’t often understand wherein the fault lies. It is obviously to the advantage of business to do both (1) and (2) since it affects profits and reputation. This can be done by judiciously choosing to train staff to be efficient, making sure that equipment are sufficiently up-to-task, planning the layout as carefully as possible, and also crowd control. I am not sure, but I do believe that some fast food restaurants do all the above from where they site the deep-fat fry and the deep freezer to having one queue to order and one queue to wait. So, the question I am puzzled with is, is it the staff that refuse/unable to be trained? Or is it the management just not having enough incentive to do so? Or is it that the thought has just never crossed their minds and that in chain food courts, all these stalls are just sub-contracted out to independents to live or die while the owners sit back and collect rent.

      All-in-all I think the point is not so much against labour intensive production but against excessively wasteful labour intensive production. I am not in business but when I do repetitive or labour/time intensive tasks, I either take my time to do it if I have a whole day to waste ahead of me or, if I have other pressing tasks to do, try to see if I can streamline things or even automate things. I think this was one of the successes of Henry Ford. So, against your point of the difference between a high-class hotel and a student hostel, I’m not too sure what you mean but I take it that you meant that both need labour intensive services (e.g cleaning, adminstration etc) but both types of services still need to be done efficiently for the business to eventually turn a profit and grow. The service level just differs.

      • 54 Anonymous 27 May 2011 at 17:29

        Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure management doesn’t bother much or don’t know much about what actually happens on the ‘front lines’, so to speak. As long as they’re raking in the profits, and the service is acceptable (i.e. not too bad), there is no incentive to change or innovate.

        Any sort of change or innovation needs retraining, even if it’s something very minor. Taking YB’s example of providing an extra plate for bones, this requires the staff to know which items on the menu need an extra bowl, and also results for more work for the dishwasher.

      • 55 yawningbread 27 May 2011 at 21:19

        Dishwashing is easily automated.

    • 56 Gard 25 May 2011 at 09:52

      Actually, the article puts in story-telling form puzzles that confront economists.

      Your explanations make sense: monopoly, trade-offs on price, choice and quality, etc. But a student of economics is not satisfied because there lingers a ‘why’ after that. True understanding is not about bits and pieces of explanations without tying to the overall system of knowledge.

      If you look at the suggestions posed, they are not technologically impossible and potentially profit enhancing, so even the rational monopolist would be rationally interested to implement.

      Finally, I had considered Alex’s last statement thought-provoking. If the monopolist did make the trade-offs on price/choice/quality, how much, if any, did the input of the Singapore consumer go into the calculations? (ref: William B. Martin, 1989, ‘Managing Quality Customer Service’) Are those trade-offs even real?

    • 57 yawningbread 25 May 2011 at 16:50

      stngiam — I don’t know why you can’t see it. The micro-example of the drinks stall is an example of a productivity question.

      Taking it at the most crass dollar-and-cents level:

      In the 2 minutes that a server takes to make a kaya toast/egg set to achieve sales revenue of $2.60 (I think that’s what Kopitiam charges) she could have served 10 customers (average of 12 seconds per customer) and sold 10 canned drinks or coffee/tea, each for about $1.40. Thus, the stall would have made $14 in the same amount of time.

      Which is more productive? Spending 120 seconds for $2.60 or for $14?

      You might argue that the 10 customers wanting coffee/tea or canned drinks would not run away; they would wait longer in the queue and the sales would not be lost. This is very shortsighted, because over time, the queue annoyance will drive customers away. The “bad money chases out good” dictum will apply. Those wanting the kaya set will stay loyal because the counter sells it cheap. Those wanting drinks will gradually disappear because the cost to the customer (time+ money cost) rises.

      The main point of the article is not about the drinks stall. It’s about how productivity is not just a question of training or automation as our rah-rah mainstream media likes to project. It’s very much embedded in the way Singaporean workers work, the way Singaporean managers manage and the way Singaporean customers consume.

      • 58 stngiam 28 May 2011 at 10:16

        I think the problem is that the example you gave is not so much a case of low productivity, but rather one of low service quality or mismatch in customer expectations. To the customer, it doesn’t really matter whether it takes 5 people to make you cofee or one. You may well be happier if the coffee-shop owner doubles his manpower and achieves a 50% increase in throughput. Productivity has dropped, but you get your coffee faster. Conversely, if the owner halves his manpower but sees a 33% drop in throughput, you have to wait longer but productivity has gone up. The other way for the owner to raise productivity would be to raise the price of his coffee, but I’m not sure you want that either.

        A large part of the problem with the productivity debate is that everyone thinks they know what it is, but very often they are talking about different things. Not necessarily wrong, just different. The government’s definition is based on GDP per worker but it doesn’t distinguish between full-time workers or part-time workers and doesn’t count number of hours worked. So perversely, working longer does increase productivity (according to govt statisticians).

  26. 59 Danny Wong 25 May 2011 at 07:33

    Two comments:
    1. @Anonymous who lives in London: I agree with you about speed of service in western countries. I’ve been living in the USA for 6 years (ungrad and grad school) and it never fails to irk me that the checkout at grocery stores are really slow. Coupled with the American culture of “polite conversation,” it creates an even longer experience! Don’t get me wrong, I think that being warm and friendly to shoppers are a plus in any shopping experience. But when you are in line with 10 people ahead of you, it can get a little too much when every single one engages in small talk when paying. Just pay the damn goods and go! I don’t give a rats ass that your “son loves Pop Tarts” or that you are buying so much because you’re “having a family reunion BBQ and everyone is coming…blah blah blah… how you hate your sister-in-law…blah blah blah.” And please, if you insist you have picked an item that was on discount but the register ins’t showing, get out of the line and let someone else pay first while the store manager (if he/she ever comes around) try to verify your demands. Otherwise, USA is generally a warmer and more polite society. But I’m a true blue Singaporean when it comes to efficiency when shopping.

    2. Alex, your idea of free-flow beverage is a great way to improve efficiency at fast food joints. But I think this is a bad idea. Having free-flow of soft drinks (high-fructose and generally bad for health) will promote over consumption. Here in America obesity is a big problem and studies have shown that soft drinks are a contributing factor in childhood obesity. I would advocate keeping the “no refills unless you pay” practice at Singapore fast food joints so as to prevent younger consumers (and even adults) from drinking too much sugared drinks. Don’t sacrifice good health policy for efficiency.

    • 60 Fox 25 May 2011 at 14:18

      1. They have self-checkouts in the US. Walmart practices that. I don’t think I’ve seen NTUC Fairprice try that. In fact, I find a self-checkout faster than having a cashier. If you worry about people not paying for things, then all you have to do is to impose a severe penalty for doing that. I don’t think this would be too difficult in a country that bans chewing gum so that MRT can save money on hiring cleaners.

      2. Soft drinks in Singapore (and outside of the US in general) are flavoured with cane sugar. Also, it is possible use smaller cups to prevent people from over drinking. But I think this is a rather trivial point.

      • 61 Anonymous 27 May 2011 at 23:21

        1. I am not sure if you’ve ever used a self-check counter. It’s can be infuriating since it does not work as well as it claims. My personal experience tells me that it can take longer than a usual check out because: the system sucks; older shoppers in line have problem using it thus create a longer wait; and having one staff manage 6 counters as help and anti theft measure translate slower checkouts. So far I believe there are as many who hates these machine as those who like or tolerate it. The US retailers are hoping to implement these in as many stores as possible, not to make check out faster, but to save money on labor costs.

        2. Even too much cane sugar can be bad for you. The free flow concept may he nice coz you get more for the buck, but it invites over consumption. Knowing how Singaporeans are, even if you give them a tiny cup, they’ll keep refilling more often coz it’s free mah! Unless the food industry in Singapore maintains a high standard, the fructose corn syrup will replace cane sugar coz it’s cheaper.

      • 62 Fox 28 May 2011 at 08:44

        Oh, I’ve used self-checkout at Walmarts for years. For complicated purchases, customers do have the sense to use the manned checkouts. A staff member keeping watch on 6 counters is definitely more productive than the one at the manned checkout.

      • 63 Fox 3 June 2011 at 23:52

        I stand corrected. NTUC is going to try self checkout counters. See http://www.straitstimes.com/BreakingNews/Singapore/Story/STIStory_675771.html

  27. 64 Ziggy 25 May 2011 at 13:53

    Food courts should give free flow of cold water. Under this system, each patron is given an empty cup along with the food. The customer is then free to use any one of several water coolers located around the food court.

    Of course this would probably result in a drop in profits at the drinks stall but it could result in an overall increase in business for the food vendors as certain customers(such as myself) would base our decision to patronize the food court partly because of the free cold water policy.

  28. 65 T 25 May 2011 at 17:45

    A timely article, given that productivity in Singapore is heavily linked to immigration and local unemployment/underemployment; two heavily publicized issues in the recent GE.

    I feel that in measuring productivity, its output has to be assessed on both levels of quantity and quality. When to use quality and/or quantity as an indicator depends on the particular good or service.

    So, using the examples listed in the article and comments, the productivity of (soft) drinks can be assessed purely on how many cans can be dispensed to customers per unit time. (Since there is no “quality” of soft drinks to debate about)

    On the other hand, the productivity of eggs-toast-coffee/tea combo can be subjected to both quantitative and qualitative assessments, depending on the context. In a food court where quality is not so critical, the combo should be made as fast as possible for its productivity to rise (barring burnt toast).

    In a place which specializes in making the eggs-toast-coffee/tea combo however, its productivity should be assessed on a balance between many combos it can make per unit time and how good those combos are made.

    Interestingly, “productivity” has been indirectly criticized in Singapore’s food scene. Many hawkers no longer use traditional methods in producing ingredients by hand and use food additives such as MSG in favor of producing their dishes quickly. More productive compared to the past? Definitely. Desirable? It depends.

    Another aspect to address is job-redesign by shoutloud and Zilla. I want to add that it’s not about just adding repackaging the job-scope through technological improvements. It is also about expanding the job-scope by being multi-trained (different from just up-skilling) at several similar yet distinct tasks. The time and effort saved by using technology for a primary job can be diverted towards accomplishing other tasks.

    So for example, a road sweeper using a mass-produced rugged vacuum cleaner to extract rubbish can be trained (and subsequently tasked) to do pruning around housing estates. This possibly allows for greater salaries for such multi-trained workers after accounting for technological and maintenance costs. It also allows for task-rotation within the job scope that reduces monotony (perhaps even giving more job autonomy/flexibility for the worker to choose in what order to do the range of allocated tasks) and guards against the vulnerability of such jobs being easily replaceable.

    As for the factor of social behavior affecting Singapore’s productivity, the article is right. I raise another factor and that is public infrastructure. Public infrastructure should serve the purpose of catering to the assumption that:

    citizens are public spirited (e.g. willing to throw one’s litter into bins and hence, providing sufficient bins at regular points or a designated corner in a food center to clear away one’s uneaten food and return one’s stained utensils to a depositing counter)

    This lowers the “inconveniences of being public-spirited” and guides citizens in making the right decisions. Amongst other things, it also cultivates a societal norm that people should clean up after themselves after eating and can easily do so.

    As for anti-social acts, apprehended offenders of such behavior can replace the above-mentioned multi-trained workers in their jobs for a day or two (in the more manual aspects) while the latter retains full wages for that duration. In contrast, I don’t think fines are as good in inculcating civic-mindedness but if continued, fines should be diverted into a fund helping cleaners and others in relevant jobs.

    Besides, it is logical. Someone guilty of littering should pay the cleaner that he/she is giving more work to.

  29. 66 tk 25 May 2011 at 18:11

    alex i hope you’re going to address larger opportunities for productivity growth in part 2…?

    eg1: outside my office building, SP power is digging up the road to lay new pipe / cable for the FOURTH time in 2 years. this may or may not be to do with the new building going up 2 blocks over, but even if it is, that building has been on the plan for 5 years. if SP paid ONE person double their salary to think and plan ahead, they could have laid ALL the required pipes and cables at the time they laid the road and save the costs of time, wages and materials of the contractors and subcontractors that have dug up the road 4 times, not to mention the headaches and noise pollution from the repeated jackhamering and road resurfacing.

    how many of the roadworks that we see around town are the same people doing the same job for the third time, cause its “cheaper” than just paying someone to do it properly the first time?

    eg2: my company has just laid off our current IT contractors because they’ve found another company to do the job more cheaply [and even more poorly]. the cost saving by management (seriously probably as little as $1000 over the year) comes at the expense of employees having to establish new personal relationships with a whole new set of people. the new contractors have been going around putting a heap of new asset number stickers on every single piece of IT equipment (and MANUALLY recording the numbers on PAPER!!), including the freaking telephones. they will also not be familiar with the specialty software and OS’s that different people use and we’ll need to train them up all over again. oi vey.

  30. 67 anon 25 May 2011 at 19:55

    This is Singapore, dude. And Singaporeans are well-known to be kiasu. It would be a loss of revenue for coffeeshop owners as people who would have otherwise bought drinks might opt for the healthier free cold water. Worse, because it’s free, people might even bring their water bottles to fill them up.

    It’s the same reason why, for instance, students have to pay for photocopying at our university libraries. I remember when I was a student in Edinburgh, the library lets you use its photocopying machine for free – there’s a box for you to voluntarily put in any amount you like, including none.

    I don’t think we can have that sort of thing here.

  31. 68 YH@2 26 May 2011 at 00:50

    @Alex, I’m looking forward to part 2 🙂
    you said “low productivity is also an outcome of our own social behaviour” and that productivity – “It’s very much embedded in the way Singaporean workers work, the way Singaporean managers manage and the way Singaporean customers consume.” I cannot agree more. And if I may add, on a micro level, Employee Empowerment – on all levels – can help in productivity.

    from my own experience working in an MNC – we engineers update our manager so that he can update his manager. We had to do all this in a meeting where each one gives an update in turn. After that, when the big boss had questions, we spent more time explaining things to our manager (who didn’t really get it) so that he can answer his boss.

    We could have saved so much time if engineers gave the update to the big boss directly – and field his queries immediately. And instead of everyone sitting in a meeting, he comes to our desks to poll each of us for updates (especially useful when we’re “firefighting”).

    But of course, doing this will make my manager look ineffective. And he didn’t want the big boss hearing “unfiltered” bad news. He, of course, didn’t dare tell his boss to walk about and look for us. Some engineers were scared of speaking to the big boss (I don’t know why. he doesn’t even do our performance reviews). and they also didn’t dare tell our manager his meetings were a waste of time. I did – and I saved myself many hours 🙂

    It was a like a microcosm of a political environment… anyway I finally gave feedback during an employee talk. but if only I, or my manager, had spoken up to upper mgmt earlier.

  32. 69 reservist_cpl 26 May 2011 at 01:26

    Personally, I believe Kaya toast can be automated. Some places have begun using timers for the eggs. The toasting could also be done better if we had a toaster that could handle the half-width slices of bread used in Kaya toast (rather than manual pengkang).

    About the drink dispensers, though. There is something to be said for our manually brewed kopi. It has a flavour which many, if not most Singaporeans, including myself, would be loathe to give up. But I guess if they were to install drink dispensers, the coffee stall would only have to sell coffee, which could increase productivity.

    Perhaps it is due to a Singaporean inertia against innovation and automation. I have even heard people saying that manual car-washes are good because they help create jobs. What? Shouldn’t we be trying to create more middle-level skilled jobs if possible, rather than low-end jobs? But I’m glad to see that our roads are now being swept by machines.

  33. 70 nitegazer 26 May 2011 at 17:45

    Alex, I very much agree with your sentiment that a loss in efficiency in many cases is caused by societal norms which have been prevalent in Singapore for a very long time, in particular the self-serving or kiasu nature of many Singaporeans. For example, I have frequently observed buses that people packed like sardines into the front 1/3, yet the rear is relatively empty in comparison, thus leading to a large reduction in capacity. The same occurence frequently happens in MRTs, especially at City Hall/Raffles Place where nobody wants to move in because they are getting off within the next 3 stops.

    On the same topic of buses, I am also of the opinion that bus boarding times would be much improved if everybody were to board the bus in an orderly fashion rather than attempting to squeeze in from every angle, a sight many of us would be used to. It is important to realize that much inefficiency is actually caused by common practice rather than a lack of technology. Sadly, unlike a lack of technology, there is no easy way to improve common practice. The use of campaigns and very recently the “MRT Jingle” are seen by many people to have limited usefulness. Perhaps attempting to use enabling technology to affect the way people conduct themselves is worth exploration.

    Either way I am looking forward to your analysis on social behaviour and productivity in part 2.

  34. 71 Ah Fong 27 May 2011 at 20:44

    Might the issue of productivity in coffeeshops and food stalls in food courts not be related to high rentals? Only some stalls can afford to hire more helpers but others can’t and have to rely on limited manpower to perform most of the tasks.

    Low productivity in Singapore is quite connected to the culture of fear and punishment, so people learn to watch out for themselves first. Well, society mirrors what the government does so maybe the government will have to change themselves before any real change can happen. Any cosmetic reforms will have limited effects.

  35. 72 dd 5 June 2011 at 09:11

    i must say i agree with everything except about machine dispensed coffee/tea. When i go to the kopitiam…I actually enjoy watching the seamless movements of the uncle or aunty making them. I have to see the process and I have to know that my drink has a human touch.

    Everything else, I am in total agreement. I think you should use the starbucks or queue number model instead where the customer gets the receipt and waits for the coffee. If possible, seated and waits for his name to be called or the number flashed.

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