F&B veterans brace themselves for new rules when dining in reopens
The latest curbs have dealt yet another blow to eateries struggling to find their footing. Two F&B operators speak to CNA’s Heart of the Matter ...
on Monday (Jul 26) that authorities planned to review easing restrictions in early August and potentially requiring anyone who wants to head to a restaurant, a gym or a large event to be fully vaccinated.(Listen to the full interview with Summer Hill’s Anthony Yeoh and Ya Kun Kaya Toast’s Jesher Loi on CNA’s Heart of the Matter podcast.)
A ROLLER-COASTER RIDEOn the one hand, both agreed the latest curbs were not unexpected. Having become used to shut-downs, their staff had a “mechanic, even automatic response” – chaining up chairs, placing stickers on tables, cancelling orders with suppliers and everyone pivoting quickly towards delivery and takeaway.
But they said morale was poor.‘Everybody kind of knew their roles because we've been through this so many times. But it's just that feeling of “here we go again”. You can feel the frustration and the fatigue has set in not just for our team, but also for our customers as well,’ Mr Yeoh pointed out. headtopics.com
Agreeing, Mr Loi said when shutdowns first happened, things were far more chaotic. He had to worry about staff deployment, ensuring full timers were kept on the payroll and figuring out how those who couldn’t be cross deployed could still work or take leave if they wanted to.
Upturned tables and chairs at a food-and-beverage (F&B) establishment in People's Park Centre on May 17, 2021. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)Now, with most frontline staff vaccinated and with quick testing, things are far more predictable. “But there's just no energy, there is no optimism, there was no solidarity or hope,” he confessed.
Still, both recognise they may be more fortunate than others in the sector. “We are able to do takeaways and are on food delivery platforms, unlike say a café that sells ice-cream, they can’t do delivery,’’ said Mr Loi.Should there be different levels of support then for F&B operators? “It’s not an easy task for the Government because they lump F&B together, they call F&B as one category registered under ACRA (Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority) but there’s kiosks, take-aways, cafes and you go all the way upstream to restaurants and fine dining ... there are sub-categories within categories,” Mr Loi said.
READ: Commentary: Does Singapore just have too many F&B outlets?If there was a big lesson throughout these months of open and shut restrictions, it was ensuring they had a buffer of resources to draw from.For Summer Hill, the latter half of last year saw brisk business as people came out to dine when the circuit breaker was lifted, but Mr Yeoh was wary. He had one eye on closures potentially being slapped on again when cases were still rising worldwide, and clusters seeded in Singapore. So, he ploughed all his profits into reserves when dining reopened. headtopics.com
That instinct paid off. Whendining in shuton Jul 22 and 40 per cent of his income was slashed overnight, he had a war chest to dip into.But don’t the billions in government assistance help? “It does keep us afloat I guess,” Mr Yeoh admitted. “(But) it doesn’t get us back on dry land yet.”
“Every time we have to do this (closure), there is a recovery period.” It’s not like business magically reverts to what it was once the restrictions ease, he explained.Safe distancing measures in place at a restaurant in Chinatown Point on Mar 26, 2020. (Photo: Jeremy Long)
LONGING FOR THE BUZZ OF DININGBoth are looking forward to the day when they can serve customers again. There’s nothing like the buzz of a busy restaurant where people enjoy a meal with friends and family. Has this open-shut experience crushed that enthusiasm?
Mr Yeoh probably spoke for all restaurant owners when he said: “It's sad seeing my dining room empty. There isn't that buzz, the murmur of the crowd, we're not even allowed to play music. That is disappointing.’’READ: Commentary: Why we missed dining out in Singapore these few weeks headtopics.com
But having been through the wringer several times in the last year, both men are optimistic about the future. Chefs, said Mr Yeoh, tend to have a romanticised view of restaurants but business owners have to take a harsher position – the pre-pandemic food and beverage business is “no longer viable”.
“There's no point trying to force that issue (of wanting to see dining in fully resume at 100 per cent capacity) and hold on to it,’’ he said.“It’s coming to terms with yourself that things have to change, and you need to be able to let go and accept it.”
READ: Commentary: Why some miss their regular kopi pit stop after dining-in restrictions kicked in“Despite the twists and turns, that feeling of being able to be back, going through something and knowing that you’ve gone through a bit of a valley, it adds to the human emotions … It’s a collective thing,” Mr Loi reflected.
“That feeling of being able to welcome people back to our doors and for them to experience this … that is something we look forward to in time to come.” Read more: CNA »
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Customer Service is one thing We in SG have to really improve upon. We could look at our neighbor Thailand who is the gold standard in terms of customer care. I dont think those unvaccinated would want to embarass themself going into outlet and get rejected . Less stress if there is income , money can make the world go round . Just some slight effort : ' Welcome , Vaccinated ? Have to show us pls .'
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