SINGAPORE - Two weeks into the resumption of dine-in services, some food and beverage businesses are finding it tough to walk the tightrope of observing safe management practices while keeping their customers happy.
At least three establishments have been punished for breaches. British Indian Curry Hut in Holland Village was ordered to close on June 19 for 10 days after large crowds were seen gathering outside the restaurant.
Last weekend, Moonstone Bar and Mexican spit-roasted chicken joint Chico Loco in Amoy Street were each fined $1,000 and had to close for 10 days from June 28, after the authorities found that they had allowed customers to consume alcohol on their premises past 10.30pm. Their appeals against the closures were unsuccessful.
F&B owners tell The Straits Times they are aware of the rules - which include a 10.30pm cut-off for liquor sales and consumption, limits on group sizes and no mingling between tables - but that enforcing them requires cooperation from customers as well.
Moonstone Bar's co-founder Jeremy Lim, 31, recalls that on the night it was fined, the bar had served the last two orders by 10.10pm and was in the process of issuing over 20 bills.
"With only three staff members, we tried our best to clear the tables and reminded the remaining customers three times that they had to finish their drinks and leave," he says.
But they were still there at 10.40pm. The bar closes at 10.30pm.
As a result of the clampdowns, some businesses say they have moved their cut-off time for last orders earlier to get customers out the door on time.
Ms Angeles Herrero, 54, founder of Middle Eastern restaurant Kazbar in Church Street, says: "The last call for drinks is 9.45pm. We bring the bills to all the tables at 10pm and we will clear all the glasses by 10.15pm.
"Everybody wants to celebrate by dining out, but as much as we play our part, we also need the customers to do so."
Ms Herrero, whose restaurant has been around for 18 years, adds: "We also need the authorities to understand that while we can control what happens inside the outlet, once the customers are out on the street, we can't be expected to control them."
She is referring to what happened at British Indian Curry Hut. Its general manager told ST that crowds had gathered to see fights that had broken out in front of his and other restaurants in the vicinity. He said they were mistaken for his customers, which made it seem like the eatery flouted social distancing measures.
Ms Herrero notes that most of her customers have been understanding and obeyed the rules, though she has also come across some who were non-compliant.
"At the end of the day, I need to protect my business and my staff's jobs," she says.
Mr Alvin Gho, 38, co-owner of wine bar and restaurant Wine RVLT in Carpenter Street, adds: "When you're in recovery mode after being closed for over two months, trying to be hospitable and law-abiding at the same time is very tough."
But with the livelihoods of 10 employees at stake, he has no choice but to observe the law strictly.
The restaurant encourages reservations and has staggered seating times on Fridays and Saturdays.
The first seating is from the opening time (4pm on Fridays, 1pm on Saturdays) to 7.45pm, and the second is from 8pm to 10.30pm. Diners at the second seating cannot stay for more than two and a half hours.
And to encourage people to come earlier, the restaurant now opens earlier - at 4pm on weekdays and 1pm on Saturdays - instead of at 5.30pm daily previously. It is closed on Sundays.
Mr Gho also urges customers to show up for their reservations and not to cancel at the last minute - issues they have faced in the past two weeks.
"Cancelling is fine, but inform the restaurant early, instead of at 8pm. As for no-shows, it's a matter of respect and courtesy," he says.
HOW CUSTOMERS CAN HELP
Make a reservation
Many restaurants now accept reservations instead of walk-ins, given that they have had to reduce their seating capacity to make way for social distancing measures.
Honour the reservation
If you need to cancel, do not do it at the last minute, so restaurants do not have to turn away other customers.
Keep to groups of no more than five
Each table is limited to five people. If your group is bigger, you will have to be seated separately. And do not mix between groups.
Finish your drinks well before 10.30pm
Eateries cannot sell alcohol and allow its consumption on their premises beyond 10.30pm, and staff need time to clear the tables. Several restaurants now open earlier, so you can start eating and drinking earlier instead.
Be patient and understanding
With most businesses recovering from the dine-in ban, many are operating with reduced staff while trying to adhere to safe management rules at the same time.