‘A great relief’: F&B and retail businesses welcome Phase 2 but say it will take some time to recover

‘A great relief’: F&B and retail businesses welcome Phase 2 but say it will take some time to recover

poke theory safe distancing
Staff at Poke Theory observing safe distancing measures. (Photo: Poke Theory) 

SINGAPORE: Retail and food and beverage (F&B) businesses are looking forward to Phase 2 of Singapore's reopening following the COVID-19 "circuit breaker", but told CNA on Tuesday (Jun 16) it will take some time for them to recover. 

On Monday, the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force announced that Phase 2 will begin on Jun 19, with most activities resuming, subject to safe management measures. 

Retail businesses will be allowed to reopen and customers may dine at restaurants, although they will have to be in groups of no more than five people. Tables must also be spaced a metre apart. 

READ: COVID-19: Phase 2 of reopening to start from Jun 19, social gatherings of up to five people allowed

Mr Joey Lee, the founder of Poke Theory, described the announcement as “very good news”. 

“I'm definitely looking forward to being able to see our customers and for business to slowly creep back to where we were before,” he said. 

The poke bowl franchise has kept all its six outlets open for takeaways throughout the circuit breaker and Phase 1 of the reopening. During this time, most outlets have seen a significant drop in revenue, some as much as 80 per cent. 

Due to its "prime location for island-wide delivery", the Novena outlet saw more sales than before the circuit breaker, said Mr Lee. 

Ms Lim Tjie Minn, who is business development director at coffee shop CCK 302 Foodhouse, said being able to enter Phase 2 was "a great relief". 

“Although there are still control measures in place, we hope that in the start of Phase 2, business will improve and we can bring back some of the lost business,” she said.

"BUSINESS WILL NOT BE THE SAME ANYMORE"

Some businesses CNA spoke to said they do not expect a return to normalcy in terms of earnings. 

Ms Lim Hui Koon, who is operations head of furniture chain VHive, said that the announcement does not guarantee a “big jump” in sales.

While customers have been in touch to find out when VHive's shops will open, Ms Lim pointed out that some might remain hesitant to head out.

“I don't think there will be a big jump,” she said. “We are not sure what the response is like because some of them are still scared (of contracting COVID-19). Even when we deliver (furniture to them), they are scared.”

Similarly, Chinese restaurant Goldleaf has been receiving calls and emails from customers looking to find out if they will be able to make reservations from Friday.

READ: Cocktail bar, Italian restaurant call it quits amid COVID-19 challenges for F&B sector

But Ms Karen Phua, who runs the family business, believes that more time will be needed for a return to business as usual.

“We have answered a lot of calls … but we have had to tell them to leave their name and number, and we’ll contact them when we have more information,” said Ms Phua. 

“It will take a bit of time for sure. People are still cautious about heading out,” she added. “Thus, business will not be the same anymore.”

Mr Lee also does not expect Poke Theory's revenues to “even hit 50 per cent” of what the outlets used to make.

“Honestly when Friday comes around, we actually expect a drop because other food establishments will be able to open and people will be craving to eat at these restaurants,” he said. 

“For example, our main flagship store is at Telok Ayer, so we are surrounded by all these restaurants and there's gonna be great executive lunch offers.”

READ: No buffets and testing of beauty products: List of Phase 2 safety guidelines released for retail and F&B outlets

Mr Lee also noted that there are companies that allow employees to work from home indefinitely, which will continue to affect the foot traffic and sales of its outlets in the Central Business District (CBD).

“We have many regulars whom we are friends with in the CBD and a lot of them said that there is still no timeline as to when they can go back to the office,” he said.  

PREPARATIONS IN PLACE

At VHive, preparations are already under way to equip its seven stores for an eventual reopening, said Ms Lim. This includes the setting up of a Safe Entry system for its showrooms and stores. 

“We got ready like one month ago, because we thought it was going to open on Jun 2 or Jun 3,” said Ms Lim. 

READ: 'It’s about trying until our last breath': New F&B players cook up survival plans for COVID-19 crisis

While regular cleaning and disinfecting of the premises at CCK 302 Foodhouse has already been carried out, the coffeeshop is looking to do an additional round of cleaning prior to Friday. It is also looking into installing table shields, said Ms Lim.

The owners of local fashion store Minor Miracles said they will be heading back to the store on Jun 18 - the first time in two-and-a-half months - to clean it up. 

Its founder, Ms Dawn Bey, said that while the store will allow customers to try on clothes, it will be “very strict” with sanitisation. 

“Any time a customer leaves the changing room, we will disinfect the place. Any clothes that they try, we're going to disinfect and leave it out for an hour also.”

Clothes that are returned will also be disinfected and left out before they return to the rack, she added. 

Ms Bey described the announcement on Monday as "bittersweet".

"I think it's bittersweet," she said. "It's good that we're opening - just that I guess I thought the Government would maybe have given us like a two weeks notice, since they kind of did that with Phase 1."

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Source: CNA/mt(hs)

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