SINGAPORE: It’s been more than two months since people in Singapore were allowed to dine in at food and beverage establishments around the country, but when businesses were ready to welcome customers on Friday (Jun 19), there was no rush for tables and seats.
This is the first day of Singapore’s Phase 2 of reopening. Retail outlets were allowed to reopen, as with beaches and sports facilities such as gyms and swimming pools. Dining in is allowed if people keep to a maximum of five in a group among other safe distancing measures.
It was a slow start to Phase 2 at some hawker centres and coffee shops, with only small crowds forming at peak lunchtime.
READ: 'Happy, but I don't want to stay out too long': Shoppers cautiously return on first day of Phase 2 reopening
When CNA visited a coffee shop in Ang Mo Kio at 11am, there were few customers at the tables.
Student Ong Teng Ghee, 23, was having breakfast with his sister after visiting a vet nearby.
“It’s better to eat downstairs. It’s more convenient and I can eat when the food has just been prepared,” he added.
Mr Ong said he was worried that the coffee shop would be crowded, but it turned out to be emptier than expected.
Mr Alvin Chiao, who runs Home Taste Chicken Rice at the coffee shop with his father, hopes that business will pick up as more people leave their homes to eat out.
While he is expecting business to grow, he thinks it will still be slow for about one week as people are likely to remain at home and avoid crowds.
“Luckily enough, I have some regular customers. So one week they will come down three to four times, which is good enough, a lot of them are housewives,” he said. “This is also a point for Grab taxi uncles to relax and drink coffee, so they will also come and buy my chicken rice.”
READ: Crowds return to Orchard Road, long lines at mall entrances as shops reopen after more than 2 months
The 33-year-old told CNA that the COVID-19 “circuit breaker” started just two weeks after he opened the stall, which also sells steamboat.
With the start of Phase 2, he hopes that dine-in customers will return for steamboat, which used to bring in about S$500 to S$600 in earnings every day pre-circuit breaker.
"I’ve started to reorder the ingredients. I hope the crowd will come in to eat my steamboat," he told CNA.
During the circuit breaker, however, he did not sell steamboat dishes for takeaway or delivery because of the equipment and transport required.
“When we set up the shop, we obviously didn’t know about the circuit breaker, and I was very confident that my brand could work. But once the shop opened, the coronavirus was already in Singapore,” said Mr Chiao.
“I was worried, but the deposit was already paid and everything was settled so I decided to just go ahead, because I believed that good things may happen.”
At Yuhua Village Market and Food Centre, some queues formed at lunchtime, but crowds dissipated after 2pm. Some stalls have not reopened, and there were notices informing customers that they would resume business next week instead.
Mr Cao Yong, who runs a zichar stall at the hawker centre, told CNA that he saw 20 per cent more in earnings during lunchtime on Friday compared to the situation over the past two months.
“When I was only doing takeaways and deliveries, most of the orders were single-dish like fried rice or noodles. But today, families with three or four people came here to eat, and they ordered more dishes,” he said in Mandarin.
The 31-year-old said revenue dropped about 30 per cent over the whole circuit breaker period, and is satisfied with the 20 per cent increase in sales today.
“Our business was still stable, especially with the government support. It’s also not good if everyone leaves their house now. If everyone comes outside now, it would be worrying because the virus is not completely gone,” he added.
Madam Nancy Ho, 63, had lunch with her husband at Yuhua Village Food Centre before visiting her daughter’s home for the first time in weeks to see her grandchildren.
“(It’s been) too long we keep packing food (back home), and it’s a bit troublesome. The food is not hot, so I prefer to eat outside,” she said, adding that she was worried that it would be crowded.
“We looked around to see if it’s crowded. Since it’s not crowded, we decided it’s ok to eat together. And I chose to come not during peak lunchtime, with a lot of office people here.”
CBD STILL QUIET, OFFICE WORKERS YET TO RETURN
While people were out and about in the heartlands, many F&B outlets and restaurants in the central business district still saw few customers despite reopening on Friday.
When CNA visited the Tanjong Pagar area at 12.30pm, most restaurants had two to four tables of customers, although none of them were full.
Co-founder of Moonstone Bar in Amoy Street Jeremy Lim said he expected that there would be few customers because most office workers have not returned to the office. While he felt excited to reopen the restaurant, he was “not completely confident” that the business could sustain itself.
“I think it’s a little bit of a conflict for us also. When you run a business obviously you want to see the place packed, you want to earn money,” he told CNA.
“But at the same time, we also have a part of us where we don’t want things to get worse.”
The restaurant has seen a 90 per cent loss in sales over the past two months, said Mr Lim. It now offers free delivery for orders from the nearby offices, and saw a few deliveries for lunchtime on Friday.
“Even with the offices being back, a lot of workers or people are still a little bit afraid of what’s to come. If you go and see, there are still lots of people holding plastic bags walking back to the office. They still prefer to eat in, rather than take a chance and dine out,” said co-founder Vincent Ho.
Mr Keith Koh, who owns Lad & Dad in Tanjong Pagar Plaza said the restaurant is unlikely to be busy and is expecting mostly regular customers to return.
“On Friday we mostly cater to the lunch crowd, the office crowd, and then happy hour and dinner as well. If you notice, the area is still quiet because most offices are not back yet,” he said.
“Most of the customers we’re expecting today are regulars. We’ve been shut for the last three months so they’re looking forward to coming back.”
When the circuit breaker period was announced, the restaurant expanded its delivery orders from a 2km radius to islandwide delivery. Compared to a regular day, business dropped by about 80 per cent while the restaurant was closed during the circuit breaker, he added.
When asked why he decided to reopen the restaurant even though he predicted that there would be few customers, Mr Koh said that for F&B outlets, it is better to reopen than stay closed.
“Because the moment we open for dining, we have one more option. People get to eat here, outside of the deliveries and takeaways that we offer,” he added.
“It’s just another avenue for us to stay afloat during this period. The crowd might not be as good as before, but at least it will help us cover our overheads.”