Some F&B businesses hit by recent spike in COVID-19 cases, malls see little change in footfall
SINGAPORE: The recent spike in COVID-19 cases has hit some food and beverage (F&B) businesses hard, but others say that things have remained as per normal, with malls observing little change in footfall.
Singapore's daily COVID-19 caseload on Sep 18 crossed the 1,000-mark for the first time since Apr 23 last year. On Thursday (Sep 23), the Health Ministry reported 1,504 new COVID-19 cases, the highest since the pandemic began early last year.
Speaking to CNA, Mr Terry Neo, founder of coffee shop chain Kopifellas, noted that sales have dropped between 30 and 40 per cent at most outlets since the number of COVID-19 infections spiked last week.
Kopifellas has six outlets across Singapore, said Mr Neo.
Kopifellas’ Toa Payoh outlet has been hit especially hard, and has seen a “big drop” in sales, said Mr Neo. He believes this is partly due to the emergence of several COVID-19 clusters in the neighbourhood over the past few weeks, including at Toa Payoh bus interchange and Toa Payoh Lorong 8 Market and Food Centre.
“As the cases (there) go up higher, our sales just go down and down,” he said.
“We also have some new outlets at the CBD area, Expo, these are also affected. We can sense that more and more staff are being sent back to work from home … This is for the greater good, but it is just difficult for us.”
Ms Sofi Sui, who owns Sofi’s Cafe + Keto in Chinatown and Pasta Brava Italian restaurant in Tanjong Pagar, told CNA that the number of diners at her outlets have dropped about 40 to 50 per cent on weekdays in the past week.
“Before the offices were told to stay home and work, we actually saw quite a big crowd for lunch until the spike happened,” she said.
“But our delivery is ok, it’s still not bad. That shows that people choose to stay at home.”
When restaurants reopened in June for dining-in after the first Phase 2 (Heightened Alert), business was “very good”, but this did not last, as Singapore reverted to no dining-in again in July, she added.
“Ever since ... to the reopening until now, it’s been really really bad. I guess it’s also because of spending power, the whole economy is bad as well,” said Ms Sui.
Other restaurants said their dine-in numbers do not seem to be affected by the spike in cases. Malls also told CNA that they have not seen a marked difference in footfall.
Mr Massimo Aquaro, director of dining development of 1-Group, said the group has not seen “any particular difference” in the number of customers dining in over the past week.
The group has 10 restaurants, including 1-Altitude at One Raffles Place, Botanico at Botanic Gardens, Monti at The Fullerton Pavilion and Wildseed Cafe at The Alkaff Mansion and Seletar Aerospace Park. Most of the restaurants were fully booked when CNA spoke to Mr Aquaro on Thursday afternoon, he noted.
“Honestly they can’t travel, and there is no clubbing, there is no bar, there's no other form of entertainment, so basically (dining in at a) restaurant is the only thing they can do,” said Mr Aquaro.
“It seems like people have developed a kind of confidence, either in the vaccine or we would be glad if it’s in our (restaurants)... Especially those places we have that are open-air, those places are doing very well,” he added. “This makes me very happy because I also was a bit worried, with the number of cases going up.”
Noting that most of the large clusters did not start at restaurants, Mr Aquaro said that most restaurants have been respectful of COVID-19 measures and have good reputations for safety restrictions.
With the spike in cases, the team has stressed to staff the importance of wearing their masks properly, and to ensure a safe distance between themselves and diners, he added.
Mr Joey Lee, the founder of Poke Theory, said he has not noted an observable trend over the past week. Earnings - which include revenue generated by deliveries - have continued to fluctuate, he said.
However, he noted that footfall had been slowly increasing over a period of time. This has not been affected by the recent spike in cases, he added.
“It is definitely increasing but still quite a bit away from pre-COVID when it comes to the areas with offices,” he said.
UOL Group, which owns United Square, Velocity@Novena and KINEX, said shopper traffic at the three malls "is healthy", compared with the period when Singapore returned to Phase 2 (Heightened Alert).
“We have been rigorous in maintaining heightened safety and cleaning procedures since the onset of COVID-19. Providing a safe and healthy environment for our shoppers and occupants has always been and remains our priority,” a UOL spokesperson said.
Esplanade Mall has seen lower footfall since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, said Ms Rachelle Tan, Esplanade’s director of venues and planning.
“Although footfall increased when dining-in resumed, it has largely been consistent otherwise, and we have not observed a marked difference in the last month.”
Noting that the mall’s tenant mix is significantly different from other malls located in the Orchard Road shopping belt or in the heartlands, shops there “do not serve mass crowds of casual or window shoppers”, she added.
“As the arts and cultural sector has been slow to re-open, our tenants too continue to bear the brunt of this,” said Ms Tan.
“As Singapore moves towards living with endemic COVID-19, we trust that the community will also begin to shift our focus from the daily case count to the actions we can take to ensure that daily life can go on with as little disruption as possible.”
F&B owners also expressed hope that COVID-19 measures will not be tightened again so that they can continue offering dine-in services.
“I can only think positive, and every day pray for miracles to happen,” said Ms Sui, adding that she is definitely worried about a return to stricter measures and no dining-in.
The restaurant is very strict about only having fully vaccinated staff on shift, and make sure they test for COVID-19 every three days - more than the once-a-week requirement for F&B workers, she said.
They also look out for customers who may be fully vaccinated but “look sick”, because if a positive case is linked to the restaurant, it would have to close for a while, Ms Sui noted.
“I actually even mandate all my staff, besides going to work, I tell them to stay home and don’t mingle and don’t go out to any social activities. Because we basically make the team understand that the whole restaurant business and livelihood of every team member depends on just one individual’s responsibility.”
“If there is another heightened alert, we are very concerned about that,” said Mr Neo. “We just hope that we can weather through the storm.”
“We hope that the future will be treated like COVID(-19) is endemic, just like how we were told,” added Mr Lee.
“If they were to go into another clampdown again, if we don’t know exactly when it will end, I think there are quite a number of operators that if (there is) one more round (of restrictions), they might tap out.”