Coronavirus: F&B outlets gear up for dining in

Swee Choon's upcoming revamp will include adding ordering kiosks and an automated system to send food across the shophouse units. PHOTO: SWEE CHOON

SINGAPORE - Food and beverage business owners have been busy gearing up to reopen for dine-in during phase two of the post-circuit breaker, which could happen before the end of the month.

Only up to five people a group can dine in then. Industry players are expecting more guidelines to be rolled out, but in the meantime, they are getting their outlets safe for dining in.

Overseas, many restaurants have reopened with mandatory measures in place, including screens to separate diners, allowing only outdoor dining and having one waiter serve the same table throughout the meal.

In Singapore, chefs like Sebastien Lepinoy of three-Michelin-starred Les Amis at Shaw Centre have been closely observing global trends.

For instance, if paper menus are not allowed, to reduce touch points, he may have to write the menu on a board.

Impeccable service is key for the French restaurant, so having one waiter serve the same table would be tricky, he says. Diners sometimes also meet the restaurant's host and sommelier, as well as staff who handle tableside service such as the ice cream and caviar trolleys.

Chef Lepinoy says: "We hope this (one waiter to a table) restriction will not be imposed, but we must be ready. We have to anticipate every possible scenario and be ready to adapt."


Major renovations for dim sum restaurant Swee Choon in Jalan Besar will start in phase two, says third-generation owner Ernest Ting, 29.

The revamp will include adding ordering kiosks and an automated system to send food across the shophouse units - without the need for runners anymore.

The 420-seat outlet will halve its seating capacity and shorten operating hours. It used to open from 11.30 to 6am, six days a week. Now, it offers takeaway from 10 to 1am and is likely to continue with the same hours for dine-in. Delivery hours are from 11 to 1.45am.

Mr Ting is also getting Swee Choon's new central kitchen ready. It was initially meant to open as a second outlet in April at Nex mall. The opening has been postponed and the kitchen will produce frozen dim sum for delivery instead.

At Italian restaurant Buona Terra in Scotts Road, its spokesman says it is planning the design concept for renovations this year. A key feature will be a waiting area for walk-in customers.

Over at Shaw Centre, the Les Amis Group, which owns 14 restaurants at the mall, will take over an additional 2,000 sq ft of space on the second floor. The expansion was planned prior to the circuit breaker.

More expansion plans include a new casual concept called IB's Kitchen - which will sell nasi lemak and Peranakan food - as well as more outlets for Tarte by Cheryl Koh, and Peperoni Pizzeria.

The group's chairman Desmond Lim adds that they are also working to open more ghost kitchens to facilitate island-wide delivery, as well as new virtual brands such as a spin-off noodle concept of its popular Cantonese porridge brand Mui Kee.


LeVeL33 craft-brewery restaurant and lounge already did a major revamp last year, but founding managing director Martin Bem is ready to reconfigure its outdoor terrace for seating, should it be required.

At Si Chuan Dou Hua Restaurant at Parkroyal on Beach Road hotel, safe-distancing measures will be in place, with its alfresco area used as a waiting point for delivery and takeaways. Additional decorations such as potted plants have been added - to help maintain physical distancing while not compromising the ambience, says the hotel's general manager Paolo Campillo.

American burger chain Shake Shack, which has announced a third outlet at Liat Towers to open in the third quarter of this year, will have an alfresco dining area - a first for the brand in Singapore. Its two other outlets are at Jewel Changi Airport and Neil Road.


Even after dine-in resumes, many of the businesses that have had success with delivery during this period say they will continue with it.

Among them is The Lo & Behold Group, which has brands including heritage restaurant Kin, pizza restaurant Extra Virgin Pizza and natural wine bar Le Bon Funk.

Its Japanese restaurant Esora, which closed last year, returns today with a katsu sandwich takeaway and delivery menu ( Today, it will operate fom 4 to 8pm.After that, it operates from Wednesdays to Sundays, 11.30am to 8pm.

The group's managing director, Mr Wee Teng Wen, says Esora will reopen once dine-in restrictions are lifted.

Contactless kerbside pick-up service - offered by restaurants like three-Michelin-starred Odette at the National Gallery Singapore - will continue as well.



Many F&B outlets have had to get creative during the Covid-19 pandemic, such as coming up with Do-It-Yourself kits, and this is also something they should carry on with.

Mr Teo Tong Loong, 31, group business development director of ABR Holdings, which runs the Swensen's chain, does not rule out the use of toys and mannequins to enforce safe distancing and ensure the space does not look too empty. This is a measure adopted by some restaurants overseas.

Mr Teo says: "This will be useful in cases where it is not practical to remove tables and chairs. To maintain high levels of hygiene standards, if and when such toys are used, we will ensure sanitisation practices are in place."

Ms Daphane Loke, 40, founder of casual cafe chain Saybons, is trying to create positive memories of Covid-19 - from her plates.

She launched a crowd-funding project called Save A Plate earlier this week, where she handpainted about 70 plates from her three outlets to be sold as art.

Pledge amounts start at $10, which gets the supporter a postcard of an image of her specially designed plate. Pledge $200 or more to receive a hand-painted 15cm-wide ceramic side plate. The project will be funded only if the $40,000 goal is met by July 15.

When dine-in resumes, Ms Loke will use biodegradable disposable plates at her outlets for hygiene purposes, which will leave her with plenty of unused tableware.

She says: "I've been thinking about how to respond positively to all the negativity and uncertainty. This may be a good way to remember your favourite restaurant and create a positive Covid-19 memory."

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