SINGAPORE: After the announcement that buffet lines may resume - with the food to be served by staff members - some hotels are looking to boost manpower to meet COVID-19 guidelines as well as an expected increase in bookings.
From Apr 12, buffets lines are allowed at food and beverage outlets, corporate and work-related events, as well as events in the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) industry.
But diners won't be able to help themselves to the spread.
Under the revised COVID-19 safety guidelines, servers will have to dish them out and diners must not come into contact with the food.
Buffets at weddings, funeral services and social activities within corporate settings are still not allowed.
Several hotels told CNA that there has been positive feedback from diners for buffets.
Mr Sebastian Kern, director of food and beverage at Grand Hyatt Singapore, said that even though there is always “good demand” at its popular Straits Kitchen restaurant, it has seen “additional excitement” for the buffets.
This is something that has been unavailable since early 2020, he noted.
Vice president of operations at the Pan Pacific Hotels Group Gino Tan said that he has seen a “slight increase” in demand since the news on the resumption of buffets, especially for weekends.
The group operates the Pan Pacific and PARKROYAL hotels in Singapore.
It was “encouraged” by the positive feedback from consumers since staff-served buffets resumed, said Mr Tan.
“Some guests who were not aware were pleasantly surprised during the buffet orientation when they arrived at the restaurant that they could now visit the buffet lines,” he said, adding that the group is confident that there will continue to be an “uptrend” in dining out.
RAMPING UP MANPOWER
While the return of buffets is welcomed, some hotels are not fully resuming service just yet, citing manpower challenges.
With low business demand in the hotel industry, most operators are currently working with a “skeleton team”, said Marriott International’s area director of operations for Singapore, Malaysia and the Maldives Anuj Sharma.
As such, manpower is the “most crucial concern” for most food and beverage venues, he said.
“Setting up the new system to offer buffets is a labour-intensive model and to hire skilled service staff in short notice is not the easiest task at hand,” he said.
Given that it would take time to source for manpower, the Marriott Bonvoy portfolio of hotels in Singapore will have to progressively resume its buffet operations, starting with one meal period, such as breakfast, lunch or dinner. It will gradually increase this as more staff members come on board.
There are 11 hotels under the Marriott Bonvoy portfolio, including the Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel, J W Marriott Hotel Singapore South Beach and The St Regis Singapore.
The resumption of buffet lines will depend on how quickly the restaurants can set up sneeze guards and plastic shield food barriers as required under the regulations, and whether they have the needed manpower, said Mr Sharma.
He estimates that Marriott International could reopen buffet operations from early or mid-May for all its restaurants.
Although the restaurant teams have received assistance from other departments within the hotel, sudden weekend spikes or holidays like Easter do “stretch most properties thin”, said Mr Sharma.
However, this is “not the most viable option” in the long run and hiring skilled manpower at the “fastest pace possible” is the key, he added.
For Pan Pacific Hotels Group, its culinary teams work with the service teams to manage the buffet stations, said Mr Tan, adding that during peak periods, the group hires casual help and engages assistance from administrative associates for lateral service, with appropriate and relevant training provided.
PREPARING TO MEET THE REQUIREMENTS
To meet the requirements, Grand Hyatt introduced a one-directional queue system at each of its live cooking stations, said Mr Kern.
Some staff members will also function as safe distancing officers to ensure that groups of guests remain one metre apart. Chefs will serve at all food stations, which are to be protected by food shields.
Under the Pan Pacific Hotels Group, some restaurants have created buffet maps for diners to understand the restaurant layout. This will minimise unnecessary walking within the restaurant, said Mr Tan.
Their restaurants have also installed sneeze guards at buffet counters, put up queue poles and signages with instructions and guidelines to ensure a smooth collection of food within safe distancing guidelines.