A Career In The Food Industry – Do You Have What It Takes?

Working with food can be fun and satisfying, but the industry can be competitive, with most jobs involving constant late nights and plenty of hard work.

By Azrina Ahmad        18 August 2023

If you appreciate good food and enjoy hosting or cooking for others, a career in the food and beverage (F&B) industry may be up your alley. What could be more fun than meeting customers from all walks of life, tasting dishes, and serving delicious meals? 

From running a restaurant and managing a kitchen, to waiting on tables and being part of the clean-up crew, there are many options to choose from in the F&B industry. But it’s not always a bed of roses. Depending on your job, you have to maintain high cleanliness standards, cater to diners’ special requests (or handle their angry demands), ensure that the kitchen and front-of-house operations run smoothly, and guarantee that every meal is fresh, well-presented and of a high quality. Most F&B jobs are also tiring – the hours can be long and you’re likely to be on your feet all day. And working in the kitchen can be a hot and sweaty affair. Add to that, rising rents, labour shortages and increasing food prices, and it’s easy to see why the industry is widely seen as stressful and challenging.

In order to succeed in the business, you have to be passionate about every aspect of it, say two food establishment owners. Here, they share what drove them to join the industry, the challenges they face, and what they love most about their line of work. 

Larry Toh, Managing Director, Rasa Istimewa Restaurant, SAFRA Jurong

Q: Can you tell us about your job and where you work?

Larry (first from left) with a wedding couple at Rasa Istimewa.

Larry: I’m the managing director at Rasa Istimewa Restaurant at SAFRA Jurong, and the advisor of our sister outlets at Woodlands Waterfront and Pasir Ris Park. 

I’ve worked at our SAFRA Jurong outlet since 2018, but I’ve been with Rasa Istimewa since 1997, when I launched the brand with a few relatives. Back then, we had a small outlet located in Simpang Bedok. In 2002, we moved to a bigger location at Choa Chu Kang Park and operated the restaurant there for 15 years before relocating to the current premises at SAFRA Jurong.  

We opened the Rasa Istimewa outlets at Woodlands Waterfront Park and Pasir Ris Park, in 2012 and 2018 respectively.

As our SAFRA Jurong outlet is the biggest of the three, we’re able to host large events here. Our signature dishes are grilled satay, chilli crab, BBQ seafood and cereal butter prawns.

As part of the overall management of the restaurant, I’m involved in menu selection, pricing and concepts.

Q: Why did you start Rasa Istimewa?

Larry: I wanted to introduce Chinese-style zi char dishes to the masses, so that both Muslims and non-Muslims could dine together. I thought it would be a great way to promote social interaction and integration between different communities. This is why all our outlets are halal-certified. 

“Rasa Istimewa” is Malay for special taste or flavour, and, as a lover of good food, I was keen to bring something special to our diners. 

Q: What qualities or skills would someone need to excel in the F&B industry in Singapore?

Larry (first row, in striped shirt) with his staff.

Larry: As a food business owner, it’s essential to keep up with the competition, and that means maintaining the quality and taste of your food, constantly improving your standard of service, and making sure that you price your food right so that people keep coming back. 

Whatever F&B job you aspire to have, you must be passionate and knowledgeable about the industry. You must also love food and be able to tell a good dish from a bad one. And you should expect to work hard and for long hours. 

The Basic Food Hygiene Course is mandatory for food handlers in this industry. Courses like F&B Management are also good options for people who are new to the industry. Halal-training courses are a requirement to achieve halal certification.

Q: What do you wish would change or improve about your job or the industry?

Larry: The lack of manpower – it can be hard finding and retaining competent cooks and service staff, due to foreign labour laws and a high demand within the industry for good workers. Many people also don’t last in this business because they can’t handle the long hours and physical demands of their job. 

It’s important for the industry to retain capable employees, and to reduce manpower needs through innovations by mechanisation and digitalisation, which all our restaurants have undertaken. 

Q: Where do you hope to be in the next three to five years with your career?

Larry: We’re looking to expand locally in the near future, and perhaps one day even globally. 

SAFRA Members enjoy a 10% discount on non-promotional items at Rasa Istimewa, as well as access to a priority queue. Find out more at safra.sg/amenities-offerings/rasa-istimewa-restaurant

Adelene Soh, Owner and Manager, Renew Deli, SAFRA Tampines

Q: Tell us about your business.

Adelene: I started the business six years ago at Promenade @ Pelikat. Initially we sold healthy snacks, then a couple of years later we expanded it into a café, selling a wider range of vegetarian and vegan-friendly items, like acai smoothie bowls, sweet potato fries, avocado on wholegrain toast and wholegrain corn chips. Renew Deli is located at SAFRA Tampines. We also have a gift corner showcasing our house-prepared snacks and nut butters.

Before starting this business, I sold my healthy snacks at pop-up stalls and farmers’ markets. 

Q: Did you always want to be a part of the F&B industry?

Adelene: I didn’t expect to enter this business, especially since I knew how competitive and tiring it could be. Renew Deli really grew out of a demand for our healthy snacks. Our customers loved what we made so we decided to expand our selection. 

Q: What’s a typical workday like for you?

Adelene: In the mornings, I get fresh produce from our suppliers – I often have to personally select certain ingredients and items, like avocados. Then, I make my way to the shop. When the morning rush is over, I go through my emails. I usually stay past closing time to work on marketing plans and go through paperwork.  

Q: What do you need to establish a food business?

Adelene: You should have a willingness to take financial risks. Passion is also important – for both food and hospitality. 

You should also do courses in basic food safety and hygiene. Nutrition, culinary and business management courses are optional, but it doesn’t hurt to have qualifications in these areas, depending on the type of work you plan to do. 

Q: What do you enjoy most about your job?

Adelene: The opportunity to meet and serve different customers every day. We started out with a small menu, and over time, our customers told us what they wanted us to make. It’s satisfying to know that people love our food and appreciate the effort that goes into making their meals.  

Q: What do you wish would improve or change?

Adelene: Behind every operation are people who work long hours, and often for very little – not just the staff but the owners, too. I’d like to see greater appreciation for people who work in this industry and more support for grants, hiring and training. 

Q: Where do you hope to be in the next three to five years with your career?

Adelene: I hope to open more cafes so that I can serve more healthy meals and snacks to more people. 

SAFRA members enjoy 10% discount at Renew Deli. Find out more at safra.sg/amenities-offerings/renew-deli

Think you have what it takes to be a chef instead? Hear from five real-life chefs on what it’s really like to be one.

SHATEC-SAFRA Sponsorship Programme

Get a head start on your career in the food and beverage industry with an 18-month bond-free sponsorship course jointly presented by SHATEC and SAFRA. Offered as an enhancement to existing SHATEC and industry scholarship schemes, the hospitality and tourism institute has designated at least 15 places within a calendar year for SAFRA member applicants.

Qualified and successful SAFRA members can undertake either Apprenticeship Diploma Courses or Full-Time Diploma Courses in any of the following specialisation tracks:

  • WSQ Diploma in Hotel and Accommodation Services
  • WSQ Diploma in Tourism (Event Management and Operations)
  • WSQ Diploma in Food Services (Culinary Arts)
  • WSQ Diploma in Food Services (Pastry and Baking)

Save more with SAFRA! Enjoy special deals and discounts on dining, shopping, entertainment, travel, fitness and more from over 1,500 merchant outlets islandwide. Sign up or renew your SAFRA membership for three years at the price of 1 year ($43.20 inclusive of GST)! Plus, get your spouse and children on board to enjoy the same privileges too – 1st dependent pays $5.40/year, and it’s free for the 2nd dependent onwards. Visit safra.sg/savemore for more details. 

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Main Photo: Anna Tarazevich at Pexels