Coronavirus Pandemic

Private-dining spaces adapt to stricter rules

Former Singapore Symphony Orchestra violinist Lynnette Seah (above) serves Peranakan and Western meals in her flat in Tiong Bahru as part of her private-dining service.
Former Singapore Symphony Orchestra violinist Lynnette Seah (above) serves Peranakan and Western meals in her flat in Tiong Bahru as part of her private-dining service.PHOTO: ST FILE

Three of the businesses here have suspended bookings, while a few are still running, but with tighter health measures

At least three private-dining spaces in Singapore have decided to close operations for the time being, in response to stricter rules on social distancing.

But others are continuing to host guests, albeit in smaller groups and with more safety precautions.

After the recent spike in imported cases here, the Government announced measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus, such as the temporary closure of bars, cinemas and other entertainment venues, which took effect from last Thursday at 11.59pm till April 30.

While food and beverage outlets can still continue operations, they have to space out seats and tables as well as limit groups of diners to 10 people or fewer.

Private-dining businesses typically involve groups of guests who gather to dine at the chef's home.

One such set-up is Ownself Make Chef helmed by Ms Shen Tan. The 47-year-old chef, who can serve up to 12 diners at her Queenstown home, has decided to suspend bookings until the end of next month.

She says: "The setting at home is pretty cosy so diners are in fairly close contact with one another."

Diners who are affected by the suspension can reschedule their bookings to any date after April or opt for a full refund, she adds.

At Peranakan dining establishment The Ampang Kitchen, founder Raymond Leong, 74, has suspended all bookings indefinitely.

Mr Leong, who runs the kitchen at his home in Jalan Ampang in the Bukit Timah area, usually accepts a minimum of 10 people a booking.

He says: "We don't know how long the pandemic will last. From the looks of it, it's not just a matter of weeks, but months. I would prefer to cancel all bookings and start on a clean slate when it is over."

He has refunded deposits for bookings and does not plan to accommodate smaller groups to adapt to the government advisory. "Given the current situation, we just want to minimise contact wherever possible," he says.

Relish.Sg, which would normally attract up to 50 guests at its home-based themed dinners in Serangoon North, has also hit pause on its operations. It is now focusing more on catering.

Lucky House Cantonese Private Kitchen has also closed its doors, but for a different reason. Chef Sam Wong, 51, is making preparations in line with the new rules for his home kitchen in Upper East Coast Road.

When it reopens on Wednesday, it will space diners apart from one another, even if they are in the same group. Guests will be required to have their temperatures taken, sanitise their hands and complete a travel declaration form at the front porch before entering.

While the bigger of his two dining rooms can accommodate up to 16 people, groups exceeding the 10-person limit must postpone their bookings or reduce their group size.

At The Wood Ear in Choa Chu Kang, a home kitchen which cannot take more than eight people at a time, it is business as usual.

Owner Jesper Chia, 35, has not had any cancellation requests so far and, in fact, is still getting bookings.

"Guests probably feel more comfortable dining in a home setting, where the number of people present is more controlled. I won't be mixing different groups during the dinner sessions, so there will be contact only within groups," he says.

But if the coronavirus pandemic gets worse, there is the possibility of postponing bookings, he adds.

Another private kitchen still in full swing is Lynnette's Kitchen, started by Ms Lynnette Seah, a former veteran violinist with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra.

The 62-year-old usually hosts up to 10 people at a time and ensures that guests wash their hands the minute they step into her Tiong Bahru Housing Board flat.

Other measures she is taking include washing the batik tablecloths and disinfecting tables and chairs thoroughly after every meal.

"My guests are like my family and I will always have their well-being at heart," says Ms Seah, who has been running the business since 2014.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2020, with the headline 'Private-dining spaces adapt to stricter rules'. Print Edition | Subscribe