ORDERING your favourite dim sum used to be a simple affair. So was paying your parking fees. But not anymore, it has become more a linguistic challenge. ''For me, it's funny to order restaurant food in half-baked Mandarin and to have waitresses replying in half-baked Cantonese,'' said yum cha regular Rose Leung. ''And I've noticed that big Chinese restaurant chains are hiring more mainland waiters and waitresses who don't even speak Cantonese.'' But the 46-year-old said the Chai Wan restaurant she goes to every week, which employs most of its waitresses from China, had solved the communication problem. ''We order in numbers,'' she said. ''So instead of ordering foo gwa chau gai [stir fried bitter melon chicken], we order number 36.'' Indeed, the Mandarin-speaking population is growing by the day. While the local business community is learning the official mainland dialect to communicate with Chinese or other Asian trading partners, more mainland workers are settling in Hong Kong. According to Immigration Department statistics, the number of mainland Chinese moving to the territory has increased from 75 to 105 per day since the end of last year. In the labour market, a quota of 25,000 imported foreign workers (mainly from China) has been imposed by the Government since 1992. But Hong Kong legislators are calling for increases in the labour import scheme because the Government has predicted the service sectors will face severe labour shortages by the turn of the century. Currently, while Chinese restaurants probably have the biggest intake of mainland workers, they are not alone. ''A lot of mainland migrants now work in public car parks as cashiers and attendants,'' driver Frank Lui said. ''Once a To Kwa Wan car park attendant tried to tell me that I had parked in the wrong slot, but his Cantonese accent was so heavy I had to speak Putonghua to him.'' According to the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, migrant workers tend to work in the retail and service industry. ''Many of them should be able to speak the Cantonese, after all, they were pre-selected by Hong Kong employers before they came to the territory,'' said vice-chairman Leung Fu-wah. But in reality, many migrant workers can only manage basic Cantonese. The Post has, at random, contacted a number of mainland migrants working in public car parks and restaurants. Many declined to talk about their jobs. For those who did, they only revealed a little of their new found lifestyle. ''Many imported workers have been told by their employment agency before coming to Hong Kong that they should not talk to the press or trade unions,'' Mr Leung said. When a waitress was asked whether she was struggling with communication she said in accented Cantonese: ''I don't need to speak Cantonese because all I do is bring out dim sum trays to customers. Besides, most of my colleagues are from China so we either speak our own village dialect or Mandarin.'' In fact, in order to accommodate the growing Mandarin-speaking population, it is the local service and retail sectors that have to gear their staff to the change. According to a spokesperson for Giordano, the company has a policy of encouraging its staff to take up language lessons in Putonghua. ''Though we don't have language courses built into our training course, we do offer study sponsorship to staff who have passed their probation period,'' a company trainer said. ''We encourage our staff members to take on Putonghua because we have customers coming from Taiwan and the mainland. So it is a bonus if our staff can speak their dialect to make communication easier.'' Fast-food chain McDonald's has introduced in-house language training courses and sponsorship programmes to meet the growing need. ''As the number of our Mandarin-speaking customers has increased, it is only natural that our staff should speak the dialect,'' said staff director Maria Shum. ''Also, because we have colleagues coming from our mainland branches for training in the territory, it is useful that all our staff can speak a common dialect.''