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New plan launched to help food businesses go digital

Singapore

IF OLD Street Bak Kut Teh's experience is any indication, going digital can pay off handsomely for a small and medium-sized food business.

The chain of 15 stores selling pork rib soup introduced digital food ordering and payment systems, starting in 2013.

Customers can order through a mobile phone app or use the tablets at each table. Those who pay digitally get a 5 per cent discount.

Labour cost has gone down 30 per cent, and revenue has increased, said Mr Jason Lim, the chain's managing director.

Customers have benefited too. His staff are able to spend more time attending to customers'needs, instead of taking orders and manning payment counters.

The Government is hoping that more food businesses will see the benefit of going digital.

To that end, the Food Services Industry Digital Plan was launched on Tuesday at the Restaurant Association of Singapore's annual awards gala at Suntec City.

Old Street's success story is featured in a YouTube video about the plan, together with Omoomo, a chain of casual restaurants serving Korean-Japanese food.

The plan is one way for the industry to increase productivity by 2 per cent a year, without the need for more manpower, in the next five years.

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, who was the guest of honour at the event, said that unlike other places in the world, it was not an option for Singapore to compete on price and size.

Food businesses had to offer quality, service and innovation.

He said the red lion logo on a Singapore product commands a premium. And it is a collective brand that Singapore has to uphold.

He added: "Regardless of our individual brands, we are collectively building Brand Singapore." The minister asked the industry to innovate."Then we can grow from strength to strength, unconstrained by the size of Singapore's economy." The food services industry has more than 160,000 workers and they make up 5 per cent of Singapore's workforce.

The 7,000 restaurants, cafes, food courts and other food businesses contribute more than S$3 billion in value add to Singapore's economy.

Most of the businesses - 73.8 per cent of them - are small and medium-sized. To make going digital simple, the plan, developed by the Infocomm Media Development Authority and Enterprise Singapore, gives SMEs advice and a step-by-step guide to grow their businesses.

For starters, SMEs can improve productivity by using ready-to-use digital tools that allow customers to make reservations, order food and pay.

Later, the SMEs might want to explore e-procurement and data analytics to manage their businesses.

Moving ahead, they can also look to artificial intelligence, such as smart predictive ordering and food preparation robots, to improve operations.

The plan also includes other strategies to help these businesses.

For example, they can access, free of charge, consultancy services offered by SME Centres for advice on what digital solutions are relevant to their operations.

SMEs can also engage project management services to help them implement the digital solutions they have chosen, with project managers helping to re-engineer business processes and redesign jobs.

The food businesses can also use pre-approved productivity tools for managing customer relationships and inventory.

These tools are available on Tech Depot, a platform that helps SMEs access technology and digital tools, and SMEs will be able to receive grants for eligible projects.

The restaurant association, with more than 400 members representing restaurants, caterers, fast food chains and food courts, announced winners of its annual awards at the gala, which was attended by more than 1,000 industry players.

Winning Best New F&B Establishment (Casual Dining) was Nude Chill, a restaurant at Marina One serving pasta and grilled meat at lunch, and which turns into a bar serving cocktails and yakitori at night.

The award for Best New F&B Establishment (Casual Fine Dining) was Origin Grill & Bar at the Shangri-La hotel.

It serves charcoal grilled meat and fish, and cocktails inspired by five districts in Singapore: Orchard Road, Marina Bay, Chinatown, Little India and Boat Quay.

The association added a new award this year, for Best Vegetarian Restaurant.

It went to LingZhi, which has outlets at Liat Towers and Velocity at Novena Square.