Diary of a Service Crew

I need to restock my travel fund after the Italy trip. After completing my studies, I find myself having more time or rather too much time. Life used to be so jam packed with activities - work, classes, dirt biking. Classes are done with and KTM is sold. My timetable was only reserved for work, I have my evening and weekends freed so I decided to look for a second job.

Miko told me the italian restaurant she is working in was hiring so I decided to give it a shot. Timing is pretty flexible so I thought I can juggle both. Let's see.

Monday to Friday 8.30am to 6pm - Full Time Job
Occassional weekday Evenings - 7pm to 11pm waiting at Restaurant
Sat and Sunday - 8am to 10am - Tending to my fishes as part of Full Time Job; 11am to 12mn waiting at restaurant.

Craziest day, 8am to 10am - Feed my fishes; 12nn to 6pm - Sell stuff at flea market; 8pm to 1am - Wait at restaurant.

I took every opportunity and time I have to work. Am I crazy? At that time, I was so motivated that I was ready to do everything it takes to achieve my travel fund. I forgot what was fatigue and more importantly, rest. Now, thinking back, yes, maybe I have overdone it.

I worked at the restaurant for 6 months before my full time job required me to work overtime frequently and I had to call it quits.

The 6 months at the restaurant serving customers their sumptuous meal was not without its merits and learning points. There are many things I would not have realised if I am just a diner at a restaurant. As a service crew overlooking the tables, certain observations became blatant. 旁观者清 当局者迷.

Are Smart Gadgets Killing Real life Social Interactions?

The restaurant serves couple menu on special occasions like Christmas Eve and Valentine's Day. The place was decorated to suit the occasions and the vibe was really lovely and romantic. However, I faced a pretty despondent scene before me - half the diners' heads were hanging low, eyes transfixed on their mobile phones or tablets. Once in a while, one of them would look up and talk to their partner. One guy even had his Bluetooth earpiece on throughout dinner as if he was perpetually on standby for whatever work he was doing.

Ease in connection has allowed many of us to communicate with one another and in turn, we are expected to be contactable at all times. Admit it, have you ever got so frustrated with someone not replying your messages or picking up your call? In your mind, you will be thinking, "NB, Carry handphone for show only ah."

Girlfriend/Boyfriend will be thinking, "He/She is avoiding me. Why? Have woman/man outside is it?" Then, a ruckus will start because of inability of reply messages or answer calls in nanoseconds. During your parents' times, these kind of misunderstanding are unheard of. There was no expectation to be contacted immediately back then.

When I receive email from bosses on weekend and public holidays, I often wonder, "Don't they have a life beyond work? Am I suppose to reply now? Heck, no way. Leave it for Monday."

My reasons for not replying a message or message:
  1. I really have no comments.
  2. The question is asking the obvious. I see no need to answer.
  3. The question asked is an intrusion of my privacy or it is just to trivial to answer. Like, "What did you have for dinner?" "What are you doing now?" I am taking a dump in the toilet, you want to know yeah? Does it really matter? 
  4. I was in the middle of doing something important. I tend to shut down my sensory to everything else when I am engrossed with that something. 
  5. I was too lazy to browse through the new 256 messages in Whatsapp groupchat. This is a usually a cumulative outcome of Reason number 4.
  6. I really forget. Usually due to Reason 4. My whole life does not revolve around my handphone and social media. Sometimes I am really too busy to even eat, that I would not have any response to the question in Reason 3. If it is something really very important, CALL!
And I maybe deem stuck up just because I do not reply to messages. Really, cut some slack on the nanoseconds to reply criteria, be an understanding boyfriend / girlfriend / employer. Everybody has a life and deserves a life beyond their smart phones.

The restaurant is also very family-friendly. We get a lot of kids dining in. I observed when kids get too feisty, some parents would try to pacify them with an iPhone or iPad. Most of the time, it works in getting the kids to be quiet but are they being taught social etiquettes at public places? Are they being taught about being considerate so as not to disturb other diners? Hell, no! They would learn that if they want the iPhone or iPad, they just need to create a din. Positive enforcement for a negative behaviour. Yeah, I know that sounds coming from Dog Training for Dummy. Is that how we want to teach our kids? I favour an iSlap or iCane anytime over an iPad.

What is becoming of time spent with your friends and family when social gathering are intruded by presence of these gadget? Instead of hearing gleeful conversations and laughters, there are subtle sounds of finger tapping on touch screens and keypads. Depressing, right?

I do not wish to deny the merits of these gadgets entirely. They have helped us connect people easily irregardless of distance, provided us entertainment and served as great organisational tools. Even my family organises gatherings, birthday parties, Mother's Day dinner over Facebook or Whatsapp group chat.

However, I feel that this obsession with it is turning us into social misfits. We will eventually forget how to behave in real life social setting. Verbal language skills will deteriorate as we rely heavily on messaging rather than speaking.

There is an appropriate time for everything. When it is time for your family and friends, please share it with them instead of with your gadgets. They are the ones who see you through good and bad times but your gadget does not give a hoot when it wants to break down.

There is this family who are frequent patrons. They always come down to the restaurant with a stack of drawing papers and crayons. The father would draw with his daughter as they enjoy their brunch together. Occasionally, he would bring her to the bouncy castle or to the swing to play. Their heartening presence reminds me that there are still people who value real family bonding time.

The Value of Food

In my full-time job, I was rearing seabass right from the larval stage. First, we face high mortality, followed by cannibalistic stage in the fingerlings. We have to tend to our laviculture daily, even on weekends, public holidays. It takes around one year for them to grow to table size. To sum it up, it is very laborious job.

In the restaurant, the chef spent time perfecting the sea bass dish. The customer ate one mouthful and decided not to eat it anymore. Does it really taste that bad?

The poor seabass died for one mouthful of its flesh. One year of rearing the fish and chef's time spent on perfecting the dish just for one mouthful of its flesh. 5% of these efforts goes into customer's stomach, 95% goes to the rubbish bin.

It was pretty heartrending for me because I went through the tedious task of rearing fishes. I experience and understand the effort put into it. If everybody understands the processes that goes on behind our food, will we be wasting so much food then? And so what we are paid for the processes that brings the food to the table? It is not always about being remunerated by money for our work, but also by gesture of appreciation.

More wastages can be seen whenever there was buffet. We savage whatever can be eaten and packed some home. Still, plates and plates of food are continuously being dumped into the bin.

Everytime I clear plates of food down the bin, I always got reminded of the below photo that left quite an impression on me 2 years back.

Credits to Daily Mail UK
I came across this photo as I was reading about the East Africa Drought. This is a photo of a 7 month old baby in a field hospital in Kenya struck me hard. His mum was told he had a 50-50 chance of surviving. All of a sudden, I felt ashamed of the abundance we enjoy and the wastefulness we practise.

Here we are living in a weight-loss obsessed society and on contrary, elsewhere, people are losing too much weight to the brink of death, not out of choice but due to inaccessibility to basic nourishment.

With the amount of food that are constantly being thrown, probably there is enough food in the world to feed everybody. As a result of climate changes, political instability in some countries and varying economy status, the unbalanced food distribution has led to the extremes of lavish wastage and shortages throughout the globe.

I am no food economist but I understand there is no easy solution. But can I just implore everybody to just appreciate the food on your table. Probably we can do our part as individual as not to waste food and drive up demands so that people living in poorer countries can better afford food. You may think how can an individual solve the world's problem. If change does not start from an individual, then what else can start a change. Even big revolutions start from collective efforts of like-minded individuals.

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” - Mahatma Gandhi

Recently I came across a video of the Dabbawalas distributing uneaten food to the hungry. The Dabbawalas of Mumbai deliver food from homes and eateries to office workers with such good efficiency that it is believed to be of sigma six standard.

If only global food distribution is also of sigma six standard, nobody will go hungry.


As a new waitress, my colleagues have already warned me about serving a particular group of people. They even coined a not so nice abbreviation referring to them. I usually do not agree to stereotyping, but I somehow agree stereotyping holds certain truth at times. Stereotyping at least helped me mentally prepare myself for what bullshits that we can get from customers. I become more understanding when serving them, understanding they have a huge issue to behave as such that I should restrain myself from spitting in their food.

I know stereotyping is a very unfair act. But when you encounter that 90% of a particular group of people upholding that stereotype, you cannot help but to stereotype. For the other 10% of the people, I feel sorry that the other 90% has brought a bad name. Maybe it is the cultural aspect of a particular group of people that made them behave in that way.

Their characteristics:
  1. Super demanding. "Don't want this and that but want extra this and that." They want to change the entire restaurant menu.
  2. Unorthodox requests. Like warm orange juice.
  3. No respect for last order timing. Insist on ordering although kitchen has closed.
  4. Make you feel like an inferior being with the way they talk. Their "Please" do not sound like a favour but a demand.
  5. Even if it is their mistake, we have to correct it for them. E.g. Request for dish to be changed after it was served. "Oh I forgot to say I don't want egg. Can you prepare another one without it?
I do not wish to mention who they are but those who work in the F&B and hospitality line can identify which group of people I am talking about. Go ask friends and family working in that industry. With the common answers you get, you would probably realise it maybe becoming more like a statistically established fact, rather than stereotype.

Their reputation is so notorious that manager gave us the authority to turn down their reservations during the festive season. She wanted us to enjoy work and not be dampened by these customers. During busy period, even though there are tables available, we still turn them down.

Taxi driver who overheard the conversations between my colleagues, could not agree more about these people. He shared that one of them refused to pay the cab fare because it was more expensive than the previous time he took a cab for the same route. What ignorance! The taxi driver worked in their country for a few years before and he said the people there are one of the worst.

I wonder if it is their culture to behave as if the world revolves around them. I really want to visit their country and see what makes them turn out like that. Probably it is socially acceptable for people to behave like they are big shots over there. Bringing that mindset to Singapore just does not bear well with Singaporeans and my colleagues from other countries.

There are bad eggs in every group of people. When 90% of those that come to the restaurant behave like that, that reflects something peculiar about their society. As I travelled and learned from locals from other countries, I realised that some times tough situation in some areas lead to certain behaviours displayed. When there are too many people and little resources, the competition to survive prevails over basic courtesy. I am fortunate enough not to go through that. If I grew up in that environment, I would probably turn up that way too.

I was also being stereotyped at the restaurant. If you noticed, most of the service crews in restaurants are not local. When I was new, many of my colleagues asked where I am from, assuming I am not local. Initially, I replied Singapore and then I started to be more specific.

"I am from Bedok Reservoir." To their amusement, they understood me and were surprised to know that I am a local. It is a job locals usually shun, isn't it?

I also have a customer asking me, "Filippina ka ba?" (Are you Filippino?) Another time, a lady spoke to my Filippino colleague and me in Tagalog, thinking I am a Filippina. I thought it was rude to walk away so I stayed and looked at them talking. Until she asked me to affirm something, my colleague laughed and said I am not a Filippina. With a pair of not-so-epicanthic eye folds, I sometimes look mixed blood. In Philippines, there is a sizable Chinese community so it is unsurprising that I could be mistaken as coming from there too.

A sincere "Thank you" makes the work worth it.

Enough of difficult customers. You never know how much a gesture of appreciation such as saying "Thank you" can make someone enjoy serving you. We get paid for the job but as I said, it is not always about the money you know. After working for parties or weddings, some host went all the way to buy each staff gifts like chocolates. Or they share some of the birthday cakes or wedding cakes. I remember serving a table of family in which all the children and parents look at me in the eyes and say "Thank you" whenever I brought them food.  It reflect much on their upbringing and the parents as the exemplars.

Next time, someone clears the table for you, thank them. I know it is their job but if you think it is a good job, just say Thank you. It really makes someone's day knowing he or she is appreciated.


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