Restaurateur laments lack of government productivity schemes for small F&B outlets
SINGAPORE - While Arbite has been serving palatable Italian food for the past two years, the various productivity schemes dished out by the government has not found favour with the eatery.
Its chef and co-owner Marc Wee started looking at SPRING Singapore's schemes when Arbite opened in 2010, but has yet to find help for a small set up in the F&B industry like Arbite.
A consultant specialising in looking at what grants can be claimed from the Government was also roped in, but to no avail.
"Most of the productivity schemes are not applicable or conducive for small F&B outlets like Arbite," said Mr Wee.
Covering 1,300 sq ft of floor space, Arbite - a pun of the German word for work, "Arbeit" - has grown from humble beginnings, when it had only three employees.
With an average of 80 customers on a weekday and 150 customers on a weekend, the current 10-strong team, including Mr Wee, is the bare minimum Arbite needs for operations to run smoothly.
"It's really a skeleton crew," Mr Wee said, adding that manpower costs account for about 40 per cent of revenue.
The team at Arbite includes two foreigners on S-Passes, who are employed in management positions in the kitchen and front house.
He said that although S-Pass holders are more expensive to hire - they require a minimum fixed monthly salary of S$2,000 compared with about S$1,760 (including CPF employer contribution) for a Singaporean - getting foreigners to fill in Arbite's labour shortage is a safer bet.
Foreign hires are more reliable because "they are here for the long-term", Mr Wee said.
In his experience, he elaborated, local workers have the tendency to be absent from work.
"The ones we hire sometimes are not looking for a long-term career."
In addition to manpower, rental is also a large obstacle to Arbite's expansion plans.
Rental costs for Arbite's current location atop a shophouse in Serangoon Gardens have increased by 10 per cent over the past two years, he said.
Also threatening to thin profit margins, which currently stands at about 15 per cent, are rising food costs.
Mr Wee said that he has tried to circumvent this by getting creative with the ingredients he uses.
Experiments on new dishes are mostly being cooked up in his kitchen during the lull period after lunch.
The 30-year-old, who honed his skills in the kitchens of Michaelangelo's at Chip Bee Gardens and Country Manna after obtaining his N-Levels 14 years ago, said he is now more confident in serving his own creations.
These include green tea pasta and tri-pepper spaghettini with crab.
Despite rising expenses, Mr Wee said that he will only pass the costs on to consumers as a last resort.
Good food at affordable prices, such as Arbite's signature handmade pastas (which are priced at half that of other restaurants), was the foundation on which the restaurant was set up on, he said.
Looking ahead, Mr Wee and his two sleeping partners - who have "almost broken even" on their initial investment of S$200,000 - are keen on expanding.
Discussions started at the beginning of the year and plans include doubling the restaurant space and providing additional parking space for their clientele of mostly young families.
By Lynda Hong Ee Lyn
21 June 2012
Mr Marc Wee, Arbite's co-owner and chef, has been cooking up expansion plans since the beginning of the year, while trying to keep a lid on high costs of rental and manpower though original dishes. PHOTO COURTESY LYNDA HONG