Monday, April 26, 2010

A little hiccup at Domvs

One day after lunching with two old friends at the Domvs Italian restaurant in Sheraton Hotel last week and encountering language difficulty with its service staff, I was pleasantly surprised by a newspaper reporting that bosses in the hotel, retail and food and beverage trade are sending their foreign workers for English classes.

I hope these employers are doing it because they realise that their staff need to improve their linguistic skills and not because doing so would help them save on their foreign worker levy bills.

Our experience with the Domvs waitress -- a young Chinese national -- convinced me that many employers are still not placing sufficient attention to training.

In her case, she was not only poor in her spoken English but also in product knowledge.

For example, my friend Walter asked her what the soup of the day was. She took a few seconds to register, then, realising that she did not have the answer, replied that she would go to the kitchen to check.

If a fairly upmarket restaurant like Domvs has to depend on lowly-trained service staff, I am sure that service at many other food outlets that are also dependent on such foreign workers cannot be any better.


  1. Hi,

    Agree that training is severely lacking in numerous hospitality businesses. Generally, bad service is so common, that I focus more on extreme cases in my blog. Another common problem is regurgitated 'service speak,' where the 'cold' service is often compounded by disinterested expressions and lack of eye contact.

    On (, I also focus on good service, and have in fact consistently positive experiences with a Chinese waiter at Crystal Jade, Great World City (wrote about him in the blog too). Thus, good service is possible, regardless of nationality of the service professional.

    Mutual respect, both from management and customers, are conducive to service quality. And recognition is probably most helpful in motivating and promoting those talents in this field, for which certain personality traits play a part, and thus a limited pool.

  2. I think it's perhaps quite simplistic and easy to blame the 'foreigners' for their bad English language abilities because frankly there are lots of Singaporeans who don't speak good English too. (I'm not implying that you are blaming them; it just seems to come across from your entries that the 'sorry ah, my waiter is from China' seems to be the ready excuse for any language problems).

    In the UK, we used to use plenty of call-centres primarily located in India - India because of the cheaper labour cost, the time difference and becaue they can speak English. A documentary was made about them, and essentially the language trainers in India will encourage these call centre employees to claim that their names are Joe/Jane/Tim/Tom; and ask about our evening and about whether we've just finished watching Eastenders (a popular soap opera that usually comes on around 7.30pm).

    Anyway, the point is, even with all these 'assimilation of cultures' behaviour taught to them, it was not successful for many reasons and many organisations that used them (primarily banks) have opted now to use UK-based centres, with English speakers located in the UK.

    Essentially I think the Singapore govt/employers are very short-sighted if they think by employing people who look Chinese/Malay/Indian from the main continents/countries (China, India) it will continue to portray the image that we are a multicultural country with the 'right proportions' of Chinese/Malay/Indian people - it must be said that these people need to be able to speak the language (whatever the language is meant to be), regardless of the colour of their skin.
    I have an acquaintance who is British-born Chinese who has on the weekend, relocated to Singapore for 2 years. She will be, for all purposes, mistaken to be a local. Except when she opens her mouth and she sounds Scouse, and when a 'chinese-national' tries to speak to her in Mandarin, will be met by a blank stare and perhaps an attempt to speak Cantonese, to bridge the language gap.