Will robots in future ask if you like fries with that?

Will robots in future ask if you like fries with that?

Summary: Singapore government's mandate to increase efficiency and productivity in the services sector will lead to less human touch and more app interaction.


For those of you that aren't living in Singapore, there's a local regulation which requires a certain number of staff employed by a company to be Singapore citizens or permanent residents before the company can hire foreigners, or what is described as the dependency ratio ceiling. Consider it a Singaporeans-first initiative, which is laudable.

However in some industries such as food & beverage (F&B), there is strong indication that the bulk of applicants are foreigners, so pegging the hiring of foreign workers to the number of Singapore citizens or PRs employed frequently leads to staff shortages for these companies.

Recently the government announced measures that would further limit the number of foreign workers a company can hire. The announcements included changing the dependency ratio ceiling, increasing the foreign worker levy, and increasing the minimum salary which determines who counts as a full-time employee.

As a restaurant owner in Singapore, I spent a couple days feeling like the government had kicked me in the stomach, but then moved on to think about what the ramifications will be and how small businesses like mine can adapt to survive.

Since this is for ZDNet, let's look at how technology will be key. The government is trumpeting that small businesses need to become more efficient and productive (do more with less!), and in the restaurant context that affects the seating, ordering, cooking, and payment experiences.

The quick way to look at it is basically automate everything that can possibly be automated, and leave humans to do the parts that aren't--which is primarily serving the food and drinks after they're prepared to the customer.

Picture this scenario:

You walk into a crowded restaurant. When you first step in, there's a screen that tells you to launch the restaurant's app on your smartphone. Once it connects to your phone, it directs you to a table and assigns that table ID to your phone and your guests' phones.

The menu is also part of the app; you can browse the items available, find out more information about the items, and select which items you want ordered. Related dishes and drinks are recommended to you (hello upselling!) and once the order is submitted, it goes into the kitchen and bar where a human or machine will prepare the food and drink.

A service crew member brings your ordered items to the table and disappears quietly into the background. If you'd like to order more, you can simply select more in the app. The servers will note whether your table needs cleaning.

Finally when you're ready to leave, the payment process is integrated in the app and you just click a button and it's automatically charged to your credit card and a receipt is e-mailed to you. Bye!

This example answers the government's call to increase efficiency and productivity in the services sector, but will it also lead to less human touch and more app interaction?

What do you think about this scenario? Do you think this will be the reality for Singapore dining in the future?


Topics: SMBs, Singapore, IT Employment


Howard spent 14 years in the tech industry working as a programmer, evangelist, and community manager for Microsoft. In 2009, he had lived his "dream" of middle-management long enough and opened a Japanese restaurant called Standing Sushi Bar. Trading in stock grants and software licenses for raw fish and cash, he enjoys mixing his passion for technology into the daily hustle of small business.

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  • Some more things to consider...

    Dirty tables/ floors/ environment - Embedded sensors indicate when the table needs to be cleaned. On being triggered, dedicated "cleaning" bot rolls over and does the cleaning. (no human intervention)

    Food Prep - In an aseptic kitchen, bots process the order, which are then distributed to the patrons by "serving" bots. (no human intervention)

    Ambience control - Embedded micro-sensors control climate and aesthetic conditions, intelligently

    Sense and Respond inventory control - Footfalls are recorded by micro-sensors that are embedded in the floor and are correlated to orders being placed, which are linked to a logistics-control computer, which manages inventory orders.

    After-Sales Service - Apps that record orders and process payments are linked to "service apps" that use the information collected from the patron's credit card to email special offers etc. Similar apps could further assist patrons in dietary management if they are linked to their medical records - thus, for example, if a patron is a heart patient and this information is available to these apps, the app could "advise" patrons of "healthy" options from the menu, calorie intake etc.

    The possibilities are extensive, actually and Singapore is a City-State that is small enough and wealthy enough to make such things a reality. Whether carbon-based bipeds would agree to patronize such kinds of places - aside from the initial phase which will be driven by the novelty factor - is another matter.

  • Then companies shouldn't complain when nobody spends money

    Nobody has jobs, labor isn't valued, the cost of materials and/or education needed to break into a market (and how fast it shifts)... but most people don't mind spending $4000 to make a 99 cent iphone app and they'll think the bulk of the $2000 they net is magical profit...