Circuit breaker not deal-breaker for some eateries

88 Hong Kong Roast Meat Specialist in Tyrwhitt Road sold the same amount of food as before the circuit breaker and the stall's revenue has not been affected.
88 Hong Kong Roast Meat Specialist in Tyrwhitt Road sold the same amount of food as before the circuit breaker and the stall's revenue has not been affected.ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

While many food and beverage outlets were battered by the 21/2-month dine-in ban that ended last Friday, some have managed to survive the ordeal relatively well, attracting queues and even selling out their food.

These are mostly restaurants offering simple comfort fare or food more suited for takeaway and delivery, but a handful of pricey but popular small restaurants also found themselves as busy as before the circuit breaker.

Still, queues and sold-out notices sometimes paint a rosier picture than reality, said some F&B owners.

For example, though revenue at the popular Ministry of Rojak stall in Northpoint City remained consistent, cost went up by at least 30 per cent because of packaging material, third-party deliverers and pricier ingredients.

But business was good, said its marketing manager Nasrin Basir. There were at least 40 orders on weekends and half that number on weekdays. And most were for big platters, unlike previously when customers tended to pick a la carte items.

During the Ramadan period in April and last month, the stall launched a festive set that bundled rojak with teh tarik. That sold very well.

Mr Nasrin said: "This helped us grow our customer base and we were able to get more orders during off-peak hours too."

At 88 Hong Kong Roast Meat Specialist in Tyrwhitt Road, roast meats were sold out daily with takeaways, like it used to with dine-in. It did not offer delivery.

Chef-owner Martin Ong said revenue was unchanged because he prepared the same amount of food, including his popular char siew and roast pork that is known for its ultra-crispy crackling.

He said: "There was a steady flow of customers throughout the day."

Some restaurants, like Mustard Seed, did well too. The 13-seat omakase eatery in Serangoon Garden switched to a takeaway/delivery model with 20 set meals a day. Each set, enough for two persons, cost $138 - the same price as a seat there previously.

The meals for each week were open for orders on Monday and chef-owner Gan Ming Kiat said they usually sold out within minutes.

The menu was changed every two weeks and varied from Eurasian to Singapore-style izakaya cuisine.

Chef Gan said: "We decided from the get-go we would focus on comforting and familiar flavours. We've found that the stronger-tasting fare, like our rempah-and curry-focused menus, was more popular.

"I think, in general, stronger, heartier flavours translate better in a home setting than more delicate and subtle flavours."

The restaurant will resume dine-in on July 1.

Modern Indian grill Thevar in Keong Saik Road kept busy with about 30 takeaway and delivery orders on weekdays and 40 to 50 orders on weekends.

Chef Mano Thevar said revenue for the 35-seat restaurant - which used to have two dinner seatings - fell by 40 per cent, but profits were not the priority during this period. "Sustainability was. There has been no pay cuts or lay-offs."

He said the team came up with an Express Set Lunch for single diners after feedback from customers. The restaurant, which has resumed evening dine-in service, but is continuing with takeaways for lunch, also offered daily special meals that were sold out by mid-morning.

Among restaurant group Unlisted Collection's stable of casual and fine-dining establishments, the mid-priced Salted & Hung in Purvis Street did quite well, said the group's director Loh Lik Peng.

But he added: "Of course, we would have preferred to have been open for sit-in dining. But the deliveries and take-out, combined with the Jobs Support Scheme and rental reliefs, allowed us to stay afloat during this period."

Under the scheme, the Government pays half of the first $4,600 of the wages of local employees in food services for 10 months.

To beef up revenue, Salted & Hung did not close on Mondays like it did before the circuit breaker. It is now back to its dine-in hours.

Mr Loh said: "We had to work lunch and dinner seven days a week to ensure we had a fighting chance at surviving. But each day, we were probably making 50 to 60 per cent of the normal revenue despite working much harder."

He said family meal bundles for two to four persons, as well as comfort food like smoked chicken, sold well.

He added: "I think people went for simplicity and good value. This is what we tried to do. Cheese cakes were also remarkably popular."

His other restaurants such as Burnt Ends, Basque Kitchen by Aitor and Majestic, which have a strong following, did fairly well too.

"But they also had to serve lunch and dinner seven days a week," he said. "This is clearly not sustainable in the long term and we are glad to move closer to normality with dine-in resuming."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 21, 2020, with the headline 'Circuit breaker not deal-breaker for some eateries'. Print Edition | Subscribe