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By Ng Jun Sen
The New Paper
Sunday, Apr 3, 2016
Buffets can bring out the worst in people, says Ms Amal Ashik, who helps run one of the biggest and most well-known buffet spreads here.
The 25-year-old, who has worked in restaurants since 2009, says she's seen all sorts of kiasu (Hokkien for afraid to lose out) behaviour, including stowing away of food and attempts to take it home.
But be warned. Restaurant staffers can and do spot such behaviour.
Ms Amal says: "Yes, there are those who try to walk out with pastries hidden between paper towels. We let it slide sometimes.
"But if they try to take away crabs, for example, then we have to step in."
This is because the food may not be safe for consumption after being handled in this manner and the restaurant could be liable.
The New Paper on Sunday approached the assistant manager at Carousel at Royal Plaza on Scotts for her stories after a video of tourists clamouring for prawns at a Thailand buffet went viral and drew the ire of netizens.
In the video, they could be seen shoving their way to the tray of prawns and shovelling up piles of the crustaceans with their plates instead of tongs.
Many slammed the tourists for being uncultured and wasteful - plates of prawns were left untouched at the end of their meal.
Ms Amal says it's an extreme scene. "My jaw dropped when I saw the video. I was shocked that this kind of thing could happen.
"Here, at most, you get a long queue of people."
Her role as manager means she makes sure that the food counters are topped up so diners do not need to rush, especially at the popular seafood segment.
But this does not stop diners from making a beeline for the food when they spot the refilling happening.
Besides kiasu customers, there are also the occasional difficult ones.
"Guests may sometimes get upset when they are allocated a table that they do not like, or when walk-in guests are told that the restaurant is fully booked."
"An overbooked restaurant, power failure and miscommunication on specific arrangements are examples of what could go wrong in a day of work," she says.
Ms Amal also keeps an eye out for unsupervised children who run around the restaurant, posing a hazard to themselves and other diners.
When problems occur, it is her job to make sure the restaurant operations still run smoothly, from making reservations to handling feedback.
But if diners abuse the employees, the hotel has an anti-harassment policy in place and a security team on standby.
"Sometimes, in order to maintain composure during a challenging situation, such as when I had a guest staring me down, we sing a song in our heads to keep ourselves smiling."
In most cases, diners leave happy, she says.
Last year, Ms Amal and her colleagues helped a male diner surprise his girlfriend with a marriage proposal at the restaurant, holding up large cards that spelled "Will you marry me?" while performing a choreographed dance.
"The whole restaurant applauded when she agreed," she says.
Another time, she caught a diner trying to take away food but soon realised that she was taking food back into the hotel room for her companion, who was ill.
So Ms Amal offered to take the food up to their room instead, to the gratitude of the customer.
These are experiences that make the stressful days worth it, she says.
"I have never considered a career change and even pursued further education in the food and beverage industry," adds Ms Amal.
"I love my job."
SECRETS OF THE TRADE
1 Smile so much that your face hurts. Having to always portray a pleasant, approachable demeanour is an integral part of customer service.
2 Keep a mirror in the office - service staffers have to look presentable and project a good image. Spend at least 10 minutes on personal grooming before hitting the restaurant floor.
3 For those high-octane moments, a shot of espresso helps to fuel your day, or learn to take a deep breath when the going gets tough.