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Some F&B outlets bracing for impact after new 5-person limit on social gatherings

Some F&B outlets bracing for impact after new 5-person limit on social gatherings

Chinese restaurant Yunnans at Jewel Changi Airport. It has two other outlets at Westgate in Jurong, and Nex at Serangoon. (Photo: Yunnans)

SINGAPORE: The month of May, with a few public holidays, is usually the most profitable period of the year for eateries such as Chinese restaurant chain Yunnans. 

“There’s Labour Day, Mother's Day, Vesak Day – and also a lot of long weekends”, said Yunnans' chief operating officer Reuben Chua. 

So when authorities announced on Tuesday (May 4) that the cap on social gatherings would be lowered from eight people to five for most of this month, Mr Chua said restaurateurs were left “feeling quite sian” – a Hokkien word indicating frustration.

“This is the only month in the year with so many holidays … So it will be a challenge,” he lamented.

The decision to tighten the limit on group sizes comes amid a rise in COVID-19 cases in the community and essentially takes Singapore back to Phase 2 of its reopening.

READ: Singapore returns to tighter COVID-19 measures: What's allowed under the new rules?

Eateries CNA spoke to said they had expected the new measure when COVID-19 clusters began forming, but they were still disappointed to hear the announcement.

With the rules set to kick in on Saturday, Mr Chua expects business for Mother's Day on Sunday to dip by about 20 per cent compared to initial expectations.

Diners have already begun cancelling bookings or cutting their group sizes, he said.

For the rest of the month, he believes the limit on group sizes will bring down sales by about 30 per cent – to levels seen during Phase 2, which ended on Dec 27.

“We are a Chinese restaurant. Our business is from … larger groups of six to seven people,” he said.

READ: Possibility of circuit breaker ‘not ruled out’ as COVID-19 task force announces tighter measures

Just weeks ago when it looked like local transmissions had been kept low, the restaurant had been preparing for better business, ordering extra inventory and hiring more employees. 

“We cannot ask them to go, that’s not fair … So we have to absorb the labour costs ourselves,” said Mr Chua, adding that he wished restaurants were given more time to react.

While Yunnans is offering a discount for takeaway, Mr Chua is unsure if customers will bite.

This is because its meals are pricier than average, and customers would want the dine-in experience that goes along with it, he said.

The interior of Home of Seafood, a halal Chinese restaurant in Joo Chiat. (Photo: Home of Seafood)

Halal Chinese restaurant, Home of Seafood, is also bracing for a 30 to 40 per cent drop in business for the month.

“During the Mother’s Day period, we stay busy up to two weeks, because some don’t celebrate on the same day. There are (pre- and post-holiday) celebrations.

“Now, we are affected throughout the whole month,” said Mr Mohamed Borhan Mohamed Jaafar, the restaurant’s owner.

While he expects more delivery orders from large families who choose to celebrate at home, that will not make up the shortfall.

“When people dine in, they spend more because they spend on beverages too – but for delivery, they just get food. The (profit margin) of beverages is higher," he said.

But it could have been worse, he said.

“For F&B businesses, we hope it doesn’t go back to a situation where they make it like Phase 1. That’s more worrisome. Until the end of May - I think that time period is reasonable."

READ: Singapore monitoring COVID-19 situation as cases rise ahead of Hong Kong travel bubble

OTHER BUSINESSES NOT TOO WORRIED

Some eateries are not too worried about the new rules putting a dent in their business.

For Western food chain Swensen’s, Mother’s Day always rakes in one of the strongest sales of the year, said Ms Ana Lei, head of marketing at ABR Holdings which manages the chain.

Most of its outlets do not accept reservations for the day because walk-ins are sufficient.

“We are certain the demand will still be there, so it’s just whether they come from dine-in, delivery or takeaway. But we’re sure it will be quite full,” she said.

Even during non-peak periods, its customers typically come in parties of two to four, so the rules will not impact business too much, Ms Lei added.

The interior of Red Sparrow, a Vietnamese restaurant at Dempsey Hill. (Photo: Red Sparrow)

Another restaurant even saw the limits as possibly good news.

Red Sparrow, a Vietnamese restaurant on Dempsey Hill, said it has fewer tables because of an existing rule requiring groups to be seated a metre apart from each other.

But now, without large tables for eight taking up a bigger space, more tables can fit into the restaurant’s configuration, said Mr Jeff Koh, the co-founder of the eatery.

“Before the eight pax came into play, we turned around tables for five pax (more quickly),” he said.

About half his bookings for Mother’s Day are for groups of six to eight, but he said most have simply downsized their reservations.

Some have cancelled, but it may also mean the restaurant can accommodate more smaller groups, he said.

Ultimately, it is a short-term move for long-term benefits, noted Mr Koh.

“We don't want to go back to lockdown. If it’s not implemented and we have to go back to a circuit breaker, that’s it."

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Source: CNA/cl(gs)

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