How did Jumbo Group of Restaurants use IT to help manage the labour crunch? Sabrina Zolkifi reports.

It’s no secret the local food and beverage sector in Singapore is facing a manpower shortage.

This was one of the reasons Jumbo Group of Restaurants decided to implement IT systems throughout most of its establishments in 2010.

“In recent years, we have been trying to tap on technology because of manpower issues, as we want to better utilise man hours so employees can do other jobs in other areas,”

Christina Kong, senior director of human resources and corporate affairs at Jumbo, says.

Recently, Jumbo introduced two new IT projects and both were aimed at helping to increase efficiency among restaurant employees.

The first is a system called Chope, which helps trim down on manpower spent on customer reservations.

Before this technology was introduced, the company would require one employee to manage the phone lines receiving and confirming restaurant reservations.

“With the implementation of the Chope system, customers can go online and make their bookings 24/7. Following that, one day before the actually booking, the customer will receive a text message confirmation to remind them they have a reservation with our restaurant,” she says.

“This now frees our people from sitting there the whole day taking calls or calling customers.”

The second system the company implemented was to manage the restaurant queues, meaning Jumbo’s employees no longer have to manually assign customers to tables, as the system takes care of that. This new programme also means shorter waiting times for customers.

Again, this means that I no longer need one employee standing at the door just taking down customer and table information.
But Kong and her team were faced with a very big challenge when it came to training staff on the use of the new high-tech processes.

“A lot of the trainings were conducted in English – even things like the Excel layout were in English. Because we are a Chinese restaurant, a lot of the managers and supervisors were not English-educated,” Kong says.

In order to roll out these training programmes, Jumbo worked together with SPRING Singapore and were able to customise some aspects to better meet the needs of the organisation.

“The service provider we engaged told us they were able to translate the programmes into Mandarin so they could better understand the training.”

However, Kong found the staff were still struggling because they were not able to apply what they had learned to their everyday jobs.

“That was the other challenge – making sure my staff were able to absorb the training, and apply it to their jobs.

“Over the past few years, we find the results are still not as great as we’d like them to be, but at least there were some who were able to relate the training back to work.”

To help employees better absorb the training knowledge, Kong says the company customised the course further so employees only had to learn what was most important to their jobs.

“At the same time, we also designed a spreadsheet that the service and kitchen staff would have to use in their actual jobs. This spreadsheet is used during the IT skills course so they are able to practice together with the trainers.”

Aside from the language barrier, because a lot of the employees were slightly older, Kong says “most of them had never used a computer before and found the process scary”.

“That’s why we guide them through every step of it, even the most basic parts like accessing their emails.”

On top of getting employees familiar with the new systems, Kong says the company also wants to make sure they are comfortable with other aspects of IT which are relevant to their jobs, such as internet browsing and understanding how to use Excel spreadsheets.

“Right now, with technology, we want employees to be able to use the internet and do a search for things related to their jobs, such as searching for new dishes or finding out what other people are doing.

“On the Excel side, what happened previously was the managers and supervisors had to write up and calculate quotations for big orders manually. Now they can do it on the computer, and these are basic skills they need so we wanted to provide that training.”

Looking forward, Kong says she has plans to set up “our own IT training facility and take over the training programmes because I think we are now capable, especially with the support of our IT department”.

She shares this is something in the pipeline, and hopes it can happen in the next three to five years.

To help her workforce be more tech-savvy, Kong also tries to make sure managers she brings onboard are familiar with IT.

“But even if the answer is no, they don’t have to worry because we offer to send them for training,” she says.

It’s all really in the mindset. Once they want to learn, they really take the trouble to attend training and learn the skills.
“We want to use technology to do more in HR like appraisals and employee management. We just implemented an e-leave system about a year ago, and it was a bit of challenge because we did it across the entire group and we had to go do to every outlet to provide the training.

“At first, of course, they were a bit hesitant and you can’t blame them because they’ve been doing it a certain way for 20 years so it was a big change for them.”

Kong says the success of the company’s training programmes so far has been a result of the relationship her HR team shares with the IT function.

“It is very important HR and IT have a strong relationship when providing training because the IT department was the one that set up the programme and supports the organisation,” she says.

“We also do not require the employees to sit for an assessment at the end of the IT training – I just need them to be able to learn what is required and apply that to their work. That is good enough."