JAKARTA: Hundreds of people in central Jakarta gathered on Sunday night (May 10) to say their goodbyes to Indonesia’s first McDonald’s outlet, in what some have said was a potential violation of COVID-19 restrictions.
Sarinah, a state-owned shopping centre where the flagship outlet was located, announced last week that the whole building would undergo renovation starting next month.
The shopping centre is also adjusting its retail mix in favour of Indonesian franchises as well as small and medium enterprises when the renovation is completed in 2021.
After nearly 30 years in business, the McDonald’s outlet at the Sarinah shopping centre closed its doors at 10.05pm on Sunday.
Videos and photos circulating on social media showed several hundred people flocking to the outlet’s parking lot to watch employees close the shop for the last time.
In one video, the workers were seen bowing to the cheering crowd before a man was heard shouting “McDonald’s Sarinah".
McDonald’s Indonesia also live-streamed the store’s closing on its Instagram account.
Since McDonald's announced the closure of the outlet on May 8, Indonesians have been tweeting their fond memories of the restaurant, loved for being a hangout that operated round the clock.
“It is a place for late-night chit-chat, early morning meet up with friends ... (A place) to chill out when electricity is out at my rented room, a restaurant visited on the first day of Idul Fitri,” Twitter user Santy Tobing said in response to the announcement.
“Too many fond memories at McD Sarinah. Thank you and sayonara.”
The outlet, which first opened on Feb 23, 1991, was located on the busy Thamrin street, at the heart of Jakarta where government offices and multinational companies are located.
However, its strategic location also meant that the store served as a silent witness to countless protests and riots nearby. It also witnessed a terror attack in 2016 and a series of demonstrations surrounding Indonesia’s 2019 presidential election.
Mdm Syully Subrata, 54, said the outlet was packed with people looking to bid farewell when she went on Saturday afternoon.
“I had so many fond memories there,” she told CNA.
As a child, she said her parents often took her to Sarinah, Indonesia’s first shopping mall opened in 1967.
“When McDonald’s opened its outlet in Sarinah, it was my turn to take my children there,” she said. “It was close to where I lived so that was where I met my friends. It was so strategic it became a meeting point and a place to hang out after work.”
Mdm Subrata said she took her two sons there to take selfies. “I wanted to go in, but it was so packed inside with lines spilling into the parking lot, I decided not to. I was afraid of COVID-19. So we just stayed outside,” she said.
“But unexpectedly some of my friends had similar ideas. In total, I met eight friends by chance at the complex. We all wanted to bid our farewell to our beloved restaurant.”
READ: Masks and no touching: Indonesia aims to keep traditional markets alive amid COVID-19 pandemic
Indonesians were quick to point out that the gathering could have been a violation of the government’s large-scale social restrictions that have been imposed to curb COVID-19.
The order, known in Indonesia by its acronym PSBB, bars a gathering of more than five people while all restaurants can only serve take-outs. It was estimated that the crowd had numbered more than 300.
“Hopefully a McD Sarinah cluster would not emerge … How can a gathering of this many people not get disbanded?” tweeted the Indonesian Pedestrian Coalition, a non-government organisation campaigning for pedestrian rights.
Indonesian film director Joko Anwar also criticised the gathering. "Was a gathering like this in the middle of a pandemic really necessary?" he said.
REPRIMANDED BUT NOT FINED
When asked by CNA, Central Jakarta police chief Heru Novianto said that police will not fine anyone for violating the social restrictions order.
“It was their last chance to buy food at the restaurant, and people flocked there. They were there to buy food although some lingered until the restaurant was officially closed,” the senior commissioner said.
“It was an impromptu gathering, so it was not the restaurant’s or anyone’s fault. Besides, the gathering only lasted for a brief moment and people were wearing masks and kept a safe distance.”
By law, the maximum penalty for violating the social restrictions order is one year in prison or 100 million rupiah (US$6,695) fine.
Chief of Jakarta’s Public Order Agency, Mr Arifin said officials were immediately deployed to the outlet when the gathering occurred.
“We knew about the gathering because our patrol car passed through the area. It took us half an hour before the crowd was able to be dispersed,” Mr Arifin, who like many Indonesians goes with one name, was reported as saying by Indonesian media.
“I personally came to the location to question the management. According to the restaurant, the gathering was unplanned and the crowd came unexpectedly,” he added.
“Regardless, I reprimanded the restaurant. There should be no more gatherings or ceremonies during the PSBB order."
McDonald’s Indonesia has not commented on the incident.