SINGAPORE: Employees at food and beverage outlets that resumed dining-in on Monday (Jun 21) expressed happiness and relief at receiving customers at their outlets again.
The COVID-19 multi ministry task force announced last Friday that dining-in can restart in groups of up to two people on Monday, instead of five as previously planned. Dining-in had not been allowed since May 16 amid the rising number of COVID-19 community cases.
“The last few weeks have definitely affected us a lot,” said assistant general manager at The Coffee Academics in Raffles City Hui Kit Keong, adding that sales had dropped by about 80 per cent.
“It will probably take about two months to recuperate losses, provided we continue dining-in.”
When CNA visited the eatery on Monday at lunchtime, customers were spaced out, with about two empty tables between groups.
Under the new measures, the capacity at the outlet has been reduced by about 30 per cent, said Mr Hui. They also had to reduce the number of staff members to account for a smaller number of customers.
“But we are very happy. At least there are sales. Being in the service line, we can finally talk to people. Hopefully, we can go back to (dining-in at F&B outlets in groups of five) soon, and then with people vaccinated, we can go back to normal,” said Mr Hui.
"CHALLENGING" TO ENFORCE RULES
At NamNam Noodle Bar in Raffles City, sales were “pretty good” over the last few weeks.
“Our delivery platform took off. Hopefully, this will be consistent. During 'circuit breaker', we performed badly, but this time we included delivery islandwide,” said Andrew Ou, 37, the eatery’s area manager.
He told CNA that delivery sales tripled in the last few weeks compared to the circuit breaker period last year.
To prevent COVID-19 transmission, area managers at NamNam work in a specific outlet, rather than rotating between outlets.
The NamNam outlet at Raffles City now seats 22 customers, compared with about 40 to 50 customers before the pandemic.
“It’s going to be exciting, but it might be challenging to explain the new rules to guests. We foresee it to be an issue, although it isn’t now,” added Mr Ou.
READ: Scheme to help F&B businesses provide delivery services, go online has helped 10,000 so far; extended by 1 month
USUALLY "ALMOST FULL"
The excitement from eateries at Funan shopping mall was more muted due to the thin lunch crowd.
Cafe Kuriko, which opened on Sunday, is "limited" in its reach for customers, unlike restaurants in residential areas, its manager Mark Banter told CNA.
The new cafe, which would normally be able to fit about 60 customers, only allows about 32 customers to dine in under the new measures.
Mr Banter, 32, attributed the small crowd partly to the fact that work from home is still the default in Singapore.
Similarly, at Bizen restaurant in Funan, the steakhouse only had four customers when CNA visited at about 12.30pm on Monday.
It would usually be "almost full" at that time, especially when "people were going back to the office", said restaurant manager Sharon Yeo.
Ms Yeo, 39, is worried about her own income, as she needs to support her family. During the last few weeks when dining-in was not allowed, Bizen did not open for deliveries.
“At least now we can get paid again. No matter how much the Government covers us with subsidies, you can’t cover everything. We still have to give our parents money; you can’t just stop because you don’t have a job,” she told CNA.
At JiBiru Yakitori and Craft Beer at 313@Somerset shopping mall, the restaurant has been “struggling” over the last few weeks when dining-in ceased.
Even with takeaway and delivery options, they only averaged “S$500 to S$600 per day” on weekdays, said the restaurant's assistant manager Alan Carrillo.
“We are happy that dining-in has resumed but it’s still a bit risky. What’s important is you take care of yourself, sanitise and follow the rules,” he added.
The restaurant now seats about 32 customers, down from 80 to 100 customers pre-pandemic.
Mr Carrillo said he is “afraid” that dining-in might cease again, affecting his staff members' salaries.
“Everyone still needs to work and earn money. I’m hoping the situation will get better in these coming weeks. The only solution is to vaccinate everyone,” he said.
CUSTOMERS DON'T HAVE TO "TAKE AWAY AND GO HUNGRY"
It looked to be more crowded at some F&B outlets in heartland shopping mall Junction 8 when CNA went down on Monday evening.
There was a 45-minute wait time at Genki Sushi, with about 12 people in the queue just slightly before 7pm.
At Watami Japanese Dining, about 60 per cent of the restaurant had been filled during lunch, surpassing its expectations.
"We are happy with the crowd today. We expected our restaurant to be only 20 to 30 per cent filled. Since dining in has resumed, we feel more secure with our job now. Our company is also more confident to continue business," said manager Andrie Shiet, 38.
The crowd on Monday at Ajisen Ramen was "not bad" as well, said shop leader Sam Yip, 38.
"Maybe people just haven't dined in for so long, so they've returned," he added.
But at Huluruk Myeon House, manager Minny Ong was "a bit worried" about the handful of customers in the Korean restaurant.
"Before the pandemic, we would already have a full house with people queuing up outside at 6.30pm," the 27-year-old told CNA in Mandarin.
"But at least for people who are returning home from work, they can just sit and eat their food immediately. They don't have to take away and go hungry."
It was a point noted by Greendot supervisor Neil Thi.
"They just want to sit in. Dining-in isn't just better for our business, but we also take care of our customers," said the 24-year-old.
WHAT YOU CAN DO UNDER NEW MEASURES
When asked during a press conference last Friday whether members of the same household can eat out together in groups of more than than two people, co-chair of the multi-ministerial task force Lawrence Wong said: “We allow people from the same household to have multiple tables, but they have to make very clear that they are from the same household, that is not new.
"We’ve allowed that before and we will continue to do so. But if you are not from the same household, then you cannot go and do multiple bookings or have multiple tables, so the same rules that previously applied will continue to apply.”
This means that a group of six household members, for instance, will not be able to sit together as a table of six, Mr Wong explained.
However, groups of more than two people who are not from the same household will not be allowed to dine-in together at F&B outlets, even if they are split across multiple tables, said the Ministry of Health in a separate media release.
Together with the extension of the 50 per cent support from the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS) for F&B businesses for another three weeks from Monday, the move to allow limited dine-in will hopefully provide some "much needed" business relief for many F&B operators, the Restaurant Association of Singapore (RAS) told CNA in a statement.
“We will put in place necessary safe management measures, including a self-administered Fast and Easy Test process,” added RAS.
“We hope that with the additional safe management measures, the number of new cases can be reduced and the ... curve flattened to allow us to welcome a larger group of dine-in customers, hopefully in a month’s time.”