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Labour shortage made operators to think outside the box

The labour shortage in the service sector has made many eateries come up with measures to soothe their headache. These include using a scan menu where a customer orders food using a QR code displayed on each table, thus removing the need for a waiter.

Some mamak restaurants and cafes are also turning to using robots to deliver food to customers at their respective tables.

Several restaurants are even introducing a full self-service system for customers by placing brown paper on plates for customers to take food on their own.

One popular Malay restaurant in Taipan, USJ, has deployed this system due to a lack of hands. A notice stating that those who did not use the paper cover for their plates will be charged 30sen extra. “We do not have workers to wash plates so we now use paper covers on top of plates. This way, the plates do not need to be washed. And it saves us time, too,” added a worker there. He said the restaurant used to have 17 workers, which has now been reduced to eight.

“Thankfully, most of our customers cooperate with us as they know the problem,” he added. Some 24-hour mamak restaurants no longer operate round the clock, choosing to close by midnight.

Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association (Presma) president Datuk Jawahar Ali Taib Khan said the industry was facing a shortage of at least 30,000 workers.

“During the pandemic, many restaurants reduced their workers and some foreign workers have also left for good,” he said, adding that the manpower crunch became critical lately.

He said some restaurants and cafes turned to robots to ease the workload. “The robots are not the ultimate solution and it is also expensive to use. The cost starts from RM50,000 to RM60,000,” he said.

Jawahar added that some mamak restaurants had also adopted the QR code system for customers to order their food.

He said less than 10% of Presma member restaurants were using robots while 20%-30% adopted the QR code system. He said while restaurants were willing to pay and provide benefits such as Socso, the uptake among Malaysians for jobs as restaurant helps had been very poor.

“We are trying our level best to give jobs to local workers but they are not even keen. Someone must fill the vacancies,” he added.

For a restaurant to operate 24 hours, Jawahar said that at least 20 to 25 workers were needed.

Malaysia-Singapore Coffeeshop Proprietors Association president Wong Teu Hoon said the use of the QR code system and robots started due to the acute lack of workers.

“The QR code menu scanning does help some. But many senior citizens cannot adapt to it and still need workers to explain to them. At places where Internet coverage is poor, it actually takes even longer to place orders, much to the frustration of the customer,” he added.

He said there was no point deploying robots for a small restaurant.

“Eateries cannot completely do away with the human touch as manpower is still needed to put the food onto the robot and for cleaning,” he pointed out.

Wong said some coffee shops had also reduced their operation hours due to a lack of workers.

Restaurant and Bistro Owners Association vice-president Jeremy Lim said as with all industries, the F&B sector was also embracing technology to improve efficiency.

“The main trigger was really the Covid-19 pandemic. Consumers are a bit more cautious about touching objects, so many of us reverted to QR menus. The robots are also driven by a perceived hygiene factor,” he said.


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