Monocle boss not sold on service in S'pore

BUGBEAR: Editor-in-chief Brule finds it hard to find Singaporeans who are committed, to staff a Monocle cafe here.


    Feb 04, 2014

    Monocle boss not sold on service in S'pore

    MAGAZINE publisher Tyler Brule is eyeing Singapore as a possible location to set up a cafe.

    But the editor-in-chief of the uber-stylish culture and international-affairs magazine Monocle, which already has two cafes in Tokyo and London, has hit a stumbling block: Singapore's service culture.

    Speaking over the telephone from London, where he is based, the 45-year-old says: "We're exploring options to set up a Monocle cafe in Singapore. But unlike London and Tokyo, where people want to be part of our brand, it's hard to find Singaporeans who are committed like that."

    This, despite the magazine's first pop-up store at indie bookstore BooksActually last February being a hit with fans here.

    The store sold items such as stationery, prints, fragrances and luggage, which are available in Monocle stores around the world. It attracted more than 400 people and made $10,000 in sales on opening night.

    Mr Brule, who also runs his own branding agency, Winkreative, says the trouble in finding staff for a cafe here highlights a bigger problem.

    Singaporeans, he says, do not see working in the hospitality industry as a legitimate career choice, which affects Singapore's desire to be a top business and leisure destination.

    He explains: "Singapore is very different from Japan, where there's a growing culture of young people who are assertive about their choices.

    "It's a respectable option if you want to run a cafe or go into the hotel business to be a general manager, rather than work towards becoming a CEO of some company. Singaporeans see it a little differently... Such jobs are for the labour class."

    Service is not his only bugbear about Singapore, as readers of his weekly Fast Lane column for the Financial Times' Weekend Life And Arts section will know. In a column titled A Gnome On A Garden Bench in November, Mr Brule recounted how he decided to give a hotel here a second chance after it had failed to live up to his expectations on a previous trip.

    During his second visit there, he found himself distracted by its decor and furniture while trying to conduct a business meeting at the hotel's newly refurbished in-house restaurant.

    As Mr Brule described in his column: "As your trousers contact with the banquette, you brace yourself to settle in but you keep sinking into the seat cushion and feel as if you're in free fall.

    "As you descend into the foam, feeling not unlike Alice in Wonderland, your chin almost hits the edge of the table but you're saved at the very last moment with a thud when you finally settle.

    "Blinking up at your client, who's towering over you from a chair that seems fit for a tennis umpire, you're at a loss for words."

    Mr Brule declines to name and shame the hotel, but summarised the experience in print: "How can a designer, a furniture wholesaler and a hotel manager get this so wrong?"

    However, he says that bad hotel design is not just a Singapore problem. He calls it a "global pandemic", with principal designers kitting out a hotel without even visiting the property - leaving it to local contractors and designers to interpret their designs.

    Mr Brule, who is due to return to Singapore in a couple of weeks, is unsure if he will ever find the perfect hotel experience here: "Goodness knows, I might have to buy an apartment."