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Business still slow despite dining-in resuming with new COVID-19 rules: Restaurant owners

Business still slow despite dining-in resuming with new COVID-19 rules: Restaurant owners
People outside a restaurant on Aug 10, 2021, as dining-in resumes. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

SINGAPORE: Business has been slow since dining-in resumed for people fully vaccinated against COVID-19, restaurant owners said. 

Chef and owner of The Masses restaurant Dylan Ong described the demand for dining-in as "lethargic" since it resumed on Aug 10 as part of new COVID-19 rules

"Even though we’ve been open for about a week already, it's been very, very slow," said Mr Ong whose restaurant can have close to 60 diners. 

While things are better for him than when only deliveries and takeaways were allowed, Mr Ong said that business has dropped 50 per cent compared to previously, when dining in groups was allowed without vaccination. 

Other businesses reported similar experiences. Founder of bakery Pantler Matthias Phua said that of about 15 available tables, "only four to five tables" were occupied per day during the weekdays in the past week.

He added that while there has been a "steady stream" of walk-in customers for takeaways, the bakery was still "struggling" on the dining-in side. Things picked up over the weekend, with the bakery "half-full" 90 per cent of the time, he added.

Co-founder of cafe Old Hen Coffee Terry Lim similarly said that the weekend crowd, while not as big as usual, was better than the weekday crowd. 

Over the weekend, the dip in business was about 20 per cent, compared to about 50 per cent on weekdays, he added. 

The situation may be worse than when dining-in was barred, he said. During the Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) period, there were more delivery orders, he noted.

"(Delivery orders) kind of compensated for the lack of walk-ins ... this time, walk-ins haven't really increased much and delivery (orders) have dropped also," he said. 

However, for Mr Ong from The Masses restaurant, the situation did not improve over the weekend. 

"We ramped up manpower and production of (food) prep, but ultimately, it (response) still fell short," he said. 

DINERS UNSURE OF RULES

Some diners who made reservations were not fully vaccinated and had to cancel, he said, adding that restaurant employees rang customers who had reserved places to check on their vaccination status before arrival.

“We would rather turn them away over a phone call, instead of having them come and be turned away,” he said.  

While some genuinely did not understand the rules, there were others who tried to get in by producing a screenshot as proof of vaccination, or negotiate their way into a seat, the restaurant owners said.

“There was this woman who said that her handphone has an issue, and she couldn’t refresh the app,” Mr Ong said. Restaurant employees have been told to look out for people who may produce screenshots of others’ vaccination statuses to pass off as fully vaccinated. 

Mr Lim, from Old Hen Coffee cafe, said that some diners thought that al fresco dining - which is available at one of its two outlets - was allowed for those who were not fully vaccinated. 

Owner of The Malayan Council and The Fortune Cookie restaurants Hafiz Alkhatib said that he similarly had to turn away "quite a lot" of people. Some customers did not know that it would take two weeks after the second dose for them to be considered fully vaccinated, he said.

When informed, some of them tried to negotiate, he added.

"They said 'only two more days (to be fully vaccinated) you know?'  Then I said okay, then come back in two days," he said. 

Some of them were unhappy, asking if the restaurant did not want their business, he said. However, it was not business that Mr Alkhatib would have wanted to turn away - takings have fallen by 50 per cent compared to when dining-in was previously allowed, he said. 

The owners said that they believe the lukewarm response could be due to people still being wary of going out and risking exposure to COVID-19. 

But they were hopeful that as the proportion of vaccinated people increases, things will get better for their businesses.

They noted that the proportion of fully vaccinated people has been increasing. As of Aug 14, 75 per cent of the population has received two doses of COVID-19 vaccines, and 81 per cent have received at least one dose.

“I think that would definitely help - if more people are vaccinated, and more people can dine out, maybe more people will feel more comfortable going out and feel less averse to being in public,” said Mr Phua. 

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Source: CNA/ja

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