SINGAPORE: Boat Quay’s close to S$4 million makeover has solved some issues for the dining area, but it has created new ones. Rainwater has become the nemesis of business owners in the stretch, with the standardised outdoor space lacking awnings and canvases meant to keep the water out.
When it rains, and even if the rain is not heavy, alfresco diners and their meals get drenched, restaurant owners told Channel NewsAsia. While most eateries there offer indoor seating as well, it is the charming riverside atmosphere that many customers covet.
Owner of The Burger Bar R Sivaraja said that all is fine when the weather is dry. But when it rains, he sees “zero” walk-in customers, he said.
Before the facelift - which took about eight months in phases and ended in February this year - restaurants had blinds and canvases in shades of yellow and blue to deal with the rain, although these did not allow a view of the Singapore river. While the makeover has avoided that, it has brought in new problems.
“When it rains, the tables get wet up to the centre of the outdoor space, and the food also gets wet,” Mr Sivaraja said. He added that other than ruining his customers’ dining experience, rain also means the hassle of squeezing all his outdoor customers indoors.
Rainy days mean a 30 to 40 per cent drop in daily sales. This was after his business already suffered because of the renovations. When hoarding in his restaurant's stretch of Boat Quay went up, he found that regular customers from before were gone, and in order to ride the tide, he had to let go two of his four staff. Others in the stretch have similar issues.
General manager of Charlie's Restaurant & Bar R S Jagan also lamented the lack of blinds to keep rainwater out. Despite other restaurants putting up the blinds against the rules, he said that he does not want to install them yet, in case he needs to remove them. They cost a few thousands of dollars, which is “not cheap,” he said.
Executive director of Singapore River One Michelle Koh told Channel NewsAsia: “From our understanding, alfresco areas in Singapore are not permitted to have any vertical blinds due to evacuation risk in times of fire.”
Nevertheless, she said that SRO, which manages Boat Quay, recognises the challenges such a restriction brings to businesses there.
“We have been in consultation with the authorities to establish guidelines on the implementation of vertical blinds for the past months and will be submitting a proposal. As place managers of Singapore River, we will be sourcing for contractors that can provide the vertical blind installation service that fits within the guidelines of the authorities,” she said.
SRO also manages Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay.
FEWER SEATS FOR ALFRESCO DINING
Mr Sivaraja now has more room for customers outdoors, with the removal of a tree in the middle of the space, but his situation is unique. Others said that their seating capacity has been reduced following the makeover.
Bar supervisor at RedDot BrewHouse, Junel Sanol, said that space outdoors for tables and chairs has decreased by 15 per cent.
"Previously, we could put big groups outside. Most of our sales come from outdoor seating," he said.
Mr Jagan had the same issue. He said that the restaurant has seen a fall in sales of around S$500 per day with a smaller seating capacity outdoors. He blamed a strip of planters along the dining stretch for the loss of space.
Things are worse for managing director of Kinara group of restaurants Raj Patro, who has three eateries in the stretch. He estimates he is losing about S$2,500 a day just from the decrease in seats, he said.
MAKEOVER HAS MERITS
While businesses struggle with the negative impact of the facelift, which was fully funded by the Urban Redevelopment Authority, they said they like the aesthetic beauty it has brought to the area.
Changes include a better view of the Singapore River, slots for menu boards and signs, beams provided for shop owners to mount lights and fans, and timber-like floor decking material for easy maintenance. There is also better fire safety, with dangerous hanging cables tucked underground.
Mr Sanol said that tourists “love the new look”. Personally, he also prefers it as it is neater. Mr Sivaraja also said that it has a more polished look.
“It almost looked like Sungei Road market (Thieves' Market) before this, with all the different colours,” he said.
Part-time human resources coordinator Wesley Chua, 23, who sat outdoors with his colleagues at The Burger Bar, said that he prefers the unobstructed view of the Singapore River and the “better atmosphere”.
“We are still keeping a part of heritage and it has a sophisticated look now,” he said. Others said the area was now more breezy, looked “cleaner,” and the alfresco areas had wider aisles for walking.
Still, some missed the vibe of the old Boat Quay.
“It’s too structured now,” said Mr Derek Sun, 33, a business development director who previously worked for two years at the stretch.
“Boat Quay has lost its charm. It’s where the little pubs used to be. I thought Clarke Quay was the sanitised version.”
However, Mr Patro said: “We wanted a revamp. Whatever they have come up with, it’s nice, but flaws need to be attended to."
MORE CAN BE DONE TO ATTRACT DINERS
Mr Patro, who has been a tenant at Boat Quay since 1993, recounted its “golden” days.
“You couldn’t even walk on the street. It was that crowded,” he said, adding that lunch time was as busy as dinner time, which is rarely the case now. “We are not fully there yet. The image of Boat Quay still has to be improved,” he said, adding that touting, a perennial problem there, still exists.
He said the area could do with more vibrancy in order to increase footfall. He gave the example of a water and laser show that is held along the Marina Bay Sands promenade at certain times every day.
“This is a beautiful area for such a light show. It could bring in more people, other than those who are going home or walking towards Clarke Quay MRT station, “ he said.
Still, it appears that things are improving at Boat Quay. SRO said that while it is not able to share how many people visit the area, it has seen a two per cent year-on-year increase in the number of visitors every year, except for a dip in 2016 due to the construction works.
Visitorship has steadily picked up again since completion of the makeover, SRO’s Ms Koh said. On average there are more locals than tourists visiting the area, she added.
“We are making marketing efforts to profile Boat Quay and we hope that the enhanced outdoor refreshment area plus the new open views will draw even more crowds again,” she said.