SINGAPORE: This is the first year that French fine dining restaurant Les Amis is having a takeaway menu for Christmas.
The three Michelin-starred establishment, like many others in the food and beverage (F&B) industry, has had a rough year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially during the “circuit breaker” period.
Offering takeaways was one way to boost takings, said its chef Sebastien Lepinoy.
With safe distancing rules halving its seating capacity, it also anticipated demand from customers who might not be able to secure a reservation during the festive season. Les Amis has been fully booked for the week of Christmas since two months ago.
Mr Lepinoy said demand for the takeaway menu has been “very high”, with several items – homemade ice cream, log cakes and smoked salmon – already sold out.
“The restaurant is full and people want a plan B. The plan B is a takeaway,” he told CNA.
Similarly at Porta, which serves modern European cuisine at Park Hotel Clarke Quay, a special festive menu for takeaways is offered for the first time on the back of observations that some people prefer to stay home for their celebrations amid the pandemic.
“We understand that more people may prefer to bring the festive celebrations home as they do not need to worry about the commute time and the crowd in public areas during peak hours on festive dates,” said Mr Dino Lim, general manager of Park Hotel Clarke Quay.
So far, orders on the hotel’s online shop has been “positive”, he added.
It is a similar story for nine other restaurants, food caterers and hotels that CNA spoke to.
Rasel Catering, for instance, has received 20 per cent more orders for homes compared to last year.
“We are assuming this is because families and couples are not able to travel abroad and they will be celebrating the festive season in Singapore,” said its creative director Chris Loh.
“Plus, dining out has a lot of restrictions,” she added, citing rules against social gatherings of more than five people and diners having to put on face masks after a meal or drink. “Thus, they would much rather spend it at home with their loved ones.”
Hoe Brothers Catering, whose Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys have been staples on many family dinner tables over the years, said it saw about 10 per cent more orders during Thanksgiving this year.
“We hope it will be the same for this Christmas,” said catering manager He Xianhao.
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Among hotels, Crowne Plaza at Changi Airport has seen a 138 per cent jump in festive takeaway orders compared to last year. Its online store, which was also taking such orders, saw a 70 per cent increase in sales over the same period.
“This could be due to the uptrend in online shopping and many people are celebrating Christmas at home,” said a hotel spokesperson.
There has also been an uptick in food orders for gifting.
Goodwood Park Hotel saw an increase in smaller-sized orders this week. “For example, for one log cake or for one appetiser. It is likely that these could be for gifting purposes,” its spokeperson told CNA.
Overall, delivery orders this year have “increased exponentially” and the hotel has seen a similar trend for the festive season so far.
Businesses said menus have been tweaked to cater to the demand for festive feasts at home.
Tablescape, which is doing takeaways and home deliveries for the first time, spent some time on trial and error to ensure food quality and find the right biodegradable packaging.
“How can we ensure diners get a taste and flavor equivalent to the restaurant or, realistically speaking, as closely as possible to the restaurant experience. It’s a little more difficult for us because the cuisine we serve is not the best suited for takeaway and delivery,” said Ms Jeane Lim, general manager at Grand Park City Hall where the restaurant is located.
For others, it has been about reducing menus to cater for smaller celebrations given how each household can only invite up to five guests under current COVID-19 rules. When Phase 3 of Singapore's reopening begins on Dec 28, households can have up to eight visitors.
Rasel Catering rolled out “mini buffets” that are suited for eight to 10 people, instead of its usual menu for a minimum of 25 people. It also made other changes, such as offering customers turkey breast for those who do not want a full-sized turkey.
Hoe Brothers Catering has also introduced boneless turkey breast as an alternative, as it sees more catering orders for just five people.
At Neo Group, which oversees catering brands such as Neo Garden, Orange Clove and Deli Hub, festive menus for a minimum of four people are now available.
“Catering has been transformed into a new terrain, unlike what we have done in the past – elaborate buffet setups,” said Neo Group’s executive director Sally Liew, who noted that “mini buffets” are popular options among families.
Menus targeted at corporates have also been overhauled with work-from-home policies still largely in place, the caterers said. Many companies are opting for individual bentos, instead of a buffet spread.
"For corporate customers, we used to sell menus ... with a minimum of 30 guests for each buffet catering order," said Ms Liew.
"Due to the guidelines in place, and as most of them are still working from home, we have created individual celebration sets, as a wholesome alternative across all brands."