SINGAPORE: Restaurants that allow five diners as part of new COVID-19 restrictions that kicked in on Monday (Jul 19) are expecting some confusion from customers over the new rules, according to owners and managers.
As part of the new measures, eateries can allow a group of up to five people if they have put in place systems to check the status of customers, and if customers fulfil certain conditions.
Adults have to be fully vaccinated, or need to have a valid negative swab test, or have recovered from COVID-19 within 270 days. These conditions do not apply to children aged 12 years and below who are not eligible for vaccination.
Restaurant representatives who spoke to CNA said they expect challenges when doing verification.
Mr Brian Stampe, chief operations officer of Commonwealth Concepts, said that 31 outlets under the umbrella brand - which include eateries like PastaMania, The Marmalade Pantry and SwissBake - have opted to allow up to five diners.
During the weekend after the new restrictions were announced, he did a flow chart for operations as he found the new rules "confusing", he told CNA.
“When many different media platforms start trying to do their own communications of what the rules are, it does confuse,” he said.
Mr Stampe said that he had gotten clarifications from Enterprise Singapore (ESG) where needed, before disseminating information to all employees.
He added that one question is whether diners understand the new restrictions, which for the first time allow restaurants the flexibility to implement either a two or five-person limit.
“The fundamental question is not whether the outlets understand, it’s whether the members of public understand and whether they will end up arguing, which I think is the scary point,” said Mr Stampe.
He said that staff members on the ground have experienced customers arguing to be allowed into restaurants during previous rounds of restrictions.
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The restrictions that started on Monday do not change things for two people wanting to dine together - they do not need to meet any condition that needs to be fulfilled by a bigger group.
Some eateries said that they will be keeping to a two-person limit despite the flexibility to allow bigger groups.
The Ministry of Health had said on Friday that if the diners are not from the same household, children of this age group should constitute “not more than half the dine-in group”.
However, if they are from the same household, a table of five diners can have up to four children of this age group.
A spokesperson for Plain Vanilla, which has five outlets, said that it will be allowing larger group sizes to allow for more “flexibility and options” for customers.
She said that previous restrictions were “clear cut”, based on just total group size, but that the rules are less straightforward this time.
“We do foresee some challenges to arise during the verification stage,” she said.
“It's also a challenge to verify if a child below the age of 12 is from the same household as the adults or not, as they are unlikely to have any identification stating their home address, and (we) have been told to do our best to verify as much as possible.”
Mr Loh Lik Peng, chief executive of Unlisted Collection, which runs more than 20 restaurants including Nouri, Meatsmith and Pollen, echoed the sentiment about the rules.
“They are confusing to say the least,” he said.
He said that the challenges in implementing the five-person cap will be “largely logistical”.
"When you book in people, you have to inform them of the rules, check with them who is vaccinated, and who is not. When they arrive, you have to double check. At the end of the day, you’re going to have to maybe disappoint some people, you are going to have some customers arguing with you," he said.
"There will always be challenges, but we are ready to do whatever it takes (to comply with the regulations)."
While some restaurants said that since they have always had to check that customers had checked-in before entering to eat, the same employees who had been tasked with that will now do the additional checks.
Mr Stampe said however that they have had to hire more manpower for some restaurants where there are fewer employees, given the “complexity” of the new tasks.
CANCELLATIONS FROM GROUPS
Some restaurant managers said they received cancellations on reservations following the announcement on new COVID-19 measures
Mr James Chiew, owner of steamboat restaurant LongQing, said that 50 to 60 per cent of his reservations were cancelled.
He said that this is because steamboat is an activity that people prefer doing in bigger groups, and that it was unlikely that diners would want to go for pre-event testing just for a meal.
Even customers who are eligible to dine in a bigger group may choose not to do so, he added.
“People are trying to play their part as well, so they don’t go out so much,” he said.
He said that his restaurant would require potential customers to provide a screenshot of their vaccination status when they are making a reservation via Whatsapp, and that this will be checked again when they arrive for the meal.
“Cancellation is always a main concern for us because of the food preparation. We do a lot of seafood and meat – most of it is imported – so that’s why we don’t want to have too much of this fresh stuff being spoilt,” he said.
Commonwealth Concepts' Mr Stampe also said that the restaurants he oversees saw between 5 and 20 per cent cancellation in reservations.
Mr Stampe said that he thinks that the “teething” problems will settle within a few days when the industry and the customers learn together, and a “critical mass of knowledge” forms.
The Restaurant Association of Singapore said that the new rules are “very new” to its members and require a lot of operational effort to implement.
“As such, we seek the understanding of our customers to work with our food and beverage front-liners, to cooperate in the process of verifying vaccination and household status, so as to comply to these new safe management measures rules that are in place to keep everyone safe,” a spokesperson said.