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No dining-in at eateries: Restaurants pivot again, food delivery services gear up

SINGAPORE: Food and beverage businesses are bracing themselves for another round of disruption after authorities announced that dining-in will not be allowed from Sunday (May 16) until Jun 13 as part of measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Singapore will on Sunday enter what the Ministry of Health (MOH) labelled as Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) after a recent rise in COVID-19 cases in the community.

Mr Kelvin Ong, CEO of Eurasia Global Food, said that the announcement was unexpected as Singapore appeared to be on the path of re-opening.

The company has a meat distribution business as well as 15 eateries under the brands of Gochi-So Shokudo and Tun Xiang.

READ: Group sizes down from 5 to 2, dining-in suspended as Singapore tightens COVID-19 measures

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Mr Ong said that during "circuit breaker" last year, sales at the restaurants dived 70 per cent to 80 per cent. They had takeaway orders, but no deliveries. With the "last minute" announcement, he does not intend to set up a delivery service. 

"This is so sudden, we have no time to react," he said, adding that he thinks the delivery platforms' fees are too high.

"We can only hope our landlord and the MOM (Ministry of Manpower) are able to waive the rent and (foreign worker) levies for this period, to reduce our losses and keep us afloat as we are very worried the period will extend again."

Mr Collin Ho, CEO of SF Group, which runs Collin's restaurants, said that he had anticipated the stricter measures.

"Given that we had responded swiftly to pivot our business to takeaways and deliveries arising from last year’s circuit breaker, we will now enhance our efforts on these two channels to cater to our customers working from home," he added. 

The group will go ahead with the opening of a new restaurant on Monday, he said, and serve customers through takeaways and deliveries.

Ms Vicky Hwang, owner of ATLAS Bar, said it will be another "challenging" period, but remained upbeat.

"Let's all do the right thing and hopefully we can soon get back to welcoming guests again," she said.

The ATLAS bar at Parkview Square will switch back to delivering bottled cocktails and bar snacks to customers at home through its ATLAS Shop, which was launched during the circuit breaker last year. They will also be continuing takeaways for their food menu items.

READ: 24 new community cases in Singapore among 52 new COVID-19 infections

The Restaurant Association of Singapore told CNA that the latest tightening of measures will "definitely impact" F&B businesses further. 

"We urge our members and all F&B operators to quickly pivot their focus to food delivery to make up for the shortfall in the dining-in business," it said in a statement on Friday.

"In addition, we would like to reach out to all landlords and food delivery platforms to work closely with our F&B operators, to provide them with much-needed rental and delivery cost aid during this difficult period."

Facebook groups such as Hawkers United - Dabao 2020 saw action again, with new posts on Friday promoting hawker stalls around Singapore.

Food delivery services told CNA that they are expecting a surge in demand.

"With the tightening of measures announced today, Grab will be looking at different ways to further the support for our merchant-partners who are impacted. Details on these support initiatives will be shared very soon," said Ms Xinwei Ngiam, MD of deliveries at Grab Singapore.

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Mr Varun Saraf, CEO of hawker food delivery platform WhyQ said that there was a 50 per cent increase in demand for their services during the circuit breaker last year.

"This time we are expecting and have prepared for a 100 per cent increase as we have a larger vendor and customer base," he said.

"We will also be hiring more delivery couriers, hawker captains, as well as run promotions funded by WhyQ to encourage our customers to support our hawkers via delivery."

WhyQ is also launching a new free-to-download app next week for hawkers to set up their own online stores, he said.

Hotels will also be affected, as they have been relying on domestic demand while waiting for international travel to resume, said Ms Kwee Wei-Lin, president of the Singapore Hotel Association. ​​​​

Wedding banquets are also not allowed under the tighter measures.

READ: New COVID-19 measures in Singapore: What is allowed under the tighter restrictions?

"There is no doubt that these new measures will impact our industry, especially those with restaurant and banquet operations," she said.

"However, we recognise the adverse long-term implications if the Government does not make a decisive move to control local community transmission now."

Raffles Hotel's managing director Christian Westbeld said that the hotel's restaurants will cater for deliveries and takeaways, and guests on staycations at the hotel will have meals in-suite instead of at the restaurants.

"As for wedding solemnisations and receptions, Raffles Hotel Singapore will continue to embrace full flexibility and coordinate individually with the wedding couples, as we always have," he said. 

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Source: CNA/hm


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