Customers from HELL

This article is more than 12 months old

Two incidents in restaurants last week highlight the ungracious diners in Singapore.

The ugly side of diners in Singapore reared its head in two separate incidents last week. Both went viral on social media. This comes a month after labour chief Lim Swee Say called for a nation of better customers in his May Day speech.


On Friday, freelance photographer Roy Chuang dumped food on a table at Eighteen Chefs at The Cathay outlet before storming off with his female friend.

He later posted a picture of the mess on Facebook and said that the food tasted worse than dog food.

A cashier at the outlet, Miss Yee Ya Zhi Shanan, 19, said: "I was attending to another customer when I saw him throw the food on the table. We didn't even have time to react and they just left.

"They looked really furious."

Miss Yee attended to the couple when they arrived and told them how to order. The restaurant does not have service charge and requires diners to fill out an order form and pay at the counter before their food is served.

They ordered fish and chips, and mushroom and chicken aglio olio.

When they left, a staff member ran after them to ask what was wrong, but all they said was that the service was bad.

Miss Yee said: "I was shocked. Normally, customers would just tell us if they don't like the food and we'll try to help them change it."

The manager of the outlet, Mr Danny Teo, 48, felt that Mr Chuang's actions were uncalled for.

"We've encountered diners who are not satisfied with our food or service, but they usually have a reason. With him, we don't even know what went wrong.

"If he had approached us to give feedback, we would have tried to rectify whatever problem he had. But he didn't even give us a chance."

He has not contacted Mr Chuang, saying that his main priority is to ensure that his staff were all right.

Said Mr Teo: "Some of the staff are young, so they were totally stunned and didn't know how to react.

"The mess they created was worse than those that children visiting our restaurant make. At least their parents will apologise for them."

Mr Benny Se Teo, 54, the founder of Eighteen Chefs, a restaurant chain that hires troubled youth and former inmates, said: "Some people are shocked and angry at this guy, but I want peace. Every customer has the right to give feedback."

Mr Chuang's Facebook post went viral and drew flak from netizens, who said he was "childish", "spoilt" and "wasting food".

He apologised for his actions on his Facebook page on Monday.

"I do acknowledge that it was insensitive of me to overturn the food on the table, and I apologise for that. It was a build-up of the experience I had at that point in time which triggered this whole episode," he said.

When contacted, he declined to comment.

The ugly side of the diner reared its head in two separate incidents last week. Both went viral on social media.

This comes a month after labour chief Lim Swee Say called for a nation of better customers in his May Day speech.


To discourage its customers from wasting food, a buffet restaurant in United Square at Thomson charges for food taken but not eaten.

Last Tuesday, the staff at Vienna International Seafood and Teppanyaki Restaurant faced such a situation. On being told that she had to pay for her unconsumed food, a customer was unhappy and refused to pay up.

The restaurant has signs at every table stating that it charges $5 for 100g of food wastage. It is not known how much her unconsumed food, which was put in a bag for weighing, came up to.

But a contributor to citizen journalism website Stomp said the woman started arguing with the cashier, who was trying to explain the food wastage policy to her, and even resorted to using vulgarities.

The contributor, who gave his name as Timothy, posted a photo and an account of what happened on Stomp.

He said a man who was with the woman "kept quiet and seemed to try to calm her at some point".

But it was no use as she was so riled up that she hurled the bag of excess food and a calculator at the cashier. The commotion lasted for more than 30 minutes, he said. Another counter had to be set up to serve other customers waiting to pay because of the hold-up.

The police were then called in.

The police told The New Paper yesterday they arrested a woman in her 20s for committing a rash act. TNP understands that she is out on bail.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force said a woman was taken to hospital after being hurt. TNP understands that she is an employee of the restaurant.

When contacted, a restaurant staff member declined to comment. When TNP went to the woman's HDB flat in MacPherson last night, she also declined to comment.

The mess they created was worse than those that children visiting our restaurant make. At least their parents will apologise for them.

- Mr Danny Teo, manager of the Eighteen Chefs at The Cathay outlet, on Mr Roy Chuang's actions

Service is always two-way street

Diners need to play a part in improving service standards in Singapore, said food critic and Makansutra founder K.F. Seetoh.

He said: "Customers should also behave like world-class ones... They should give proper feedback and talk to the service staff nicely or even joke with them like they are normal humans... (and) not just complain like kids with credit cards."

This echoes what labour chief Lim Swee Say said in his May Day message last month.

"Instead of complaining that the service standard in Singapore is still not good enough, why don't you ask yourself, 'Are the customers in Singapore good enough?'" the NTUC secretary-general said.

"As we strive to become a more advanced economy, we must also strive to be a nation of better customers and better people."

Customer service trainer Ron Kaufman, 58, said good service has to cut both ways and involves the server and the customer.

The founder of service training company Up! Your Service added: "Service is always a two-way street - the way a customer treats a service provider will create or destroy value, and vice versa."


Mr Kaufman also felt that if the woman had asked the staff nicely, the restaurant might have resolved the matter amicably, making both parties happy.

Mr Nathanael Ho, 34, a part-time food blogger at Rubbish Eat Rubbish Grow, said poor customer behaviour comes from a "sense of entitlement", with customers believing they can behave any way they want because they are paying.

Agreeing with Mr Lim, he said: "Service is reciprocal. Singaporeans still have some way to go in terms of being good customers."

Restaurant managers and owners contacted by TNP spoke felt that diners have a long way to go and recounted some horror stories.

A cafe manager in Novena said that several customers had rejected their Peranakan platter when they found out it contained beef despite this being stated clearly on the menu.

"They would refuse to eat or demand a refund," he said.

The owner of a restaurant that does not have service charge said: "A customer once shouted at our staff and demanded to be waited on, even though we made clear with notices that self-service is expected."

But not all customers are demanding.

Mr Leo Angelo Sagun, 29, a manager in restaurant chain Fish & Co, said some fussy diners "expect to be treated like kings and queens", but they remain a minority.

A female cafe owner concurred, saying: "Most of my regular customers understand we are short-handed and they even help by refilling their soup themselves."

Mr Roland Tay, 59, CEO of social enterprise Professor Brawn Cafe, said most customers become more forgiving after realising that its employees are special needs people.

He has not encountered a nasty incident in his five years of running the enterprise, he said.

Ms Eugenia Loh, 28, a teacher, who frequents restaurants three to four times a week, said: "No matter how bad the food is, as long as the service staff have a good attitude and basic manners, I'm all right."

(Customers) should give proper feedback and talk to the service staff nicely or even joke with them... (and) not just complain like kids with credit cards.

- Makansutra founder 
K.F. Seetoh