Juggling act for restaurants

Eateries are having to cope with dine-in, takeaway and delivery services, all while ensuring they adhere to hygiene standards and social distancing rules

Colonel Sanders cut-outs sit among diners at the KFC outlet at Novena Square.
Colonel Sanders cut-outs sit among diners at the KFC outlet at Novena Square.ST PHOTOS: ONG WEE JIN, JOEL CHAN
Nine-year-old Valerie Chew wears Burger King’s social-distancing crown, which ensures that dining companions are kept a metre apart.
Nine-year-old Valerie Chew wears Burger King’s social-distancing crown, which ensures that dining companions are kept a metre apart. ST PHOTOS: ONG WEE JIN, JOEL CHAN

As restaurants reopened for dine-in amid the busy Father's Day weekend last week, many are still offering takeaway and delivery.

Juggling the three avenues of business, business owners say, is likely to remain the norm for the rest of the year, as people remain cautious about dining out. And they have to do this under the watchful eye of social distancing officers.

Unlike Mother's Day last month, where customers had to grapple with major delays or cancellations caused by a surge in orders, there appeared to be no such mayhem during Father's Day.

Goodwood Park Hotel's restaurants saw better sales for the Father's Day weekend compared with Mother's Day. Although orders streamed in only within the same week, a hotel spokesman says a large number were for takeaway and delivery.

Cantonese restaurant Yan at the National Gallery Singapore cut down delivery slots for its dinner session during the Father's Day weekend, to ensure a smooth dine-in service and minimise the risk of delivery delays, says general manager Shek Chi Kuen, 57.

Over the same weekend, online restaurant platform Chope fulfilled 18 per cent more reservations compared with an average weekend in February, when Covid-19 started breaking out here. There was also a 150 per cent jump in delivery orders from the week before Father's Day.

Chope has launched what it calls a restaurant reopening playbook for food and beverage establishments, which addresses concerns for restaurants and diners and comprises guidelines for matters such as staff management and digital transformation.

Founder and chief executive officer Arrif Ziaudeen says: "The last three months have been very (tough) for the restaurant industry, but we've learnt to turn this challenge into an opportunity for innovation and growth.

"The benefits of digitising go beyond hygiene as digital solutions come in handy for safe distancing, managing queues and table management."

Indeed, diners should expect mandatory SafeEntry check-in, cashless payments and contactless menus via scanning of QR codes. Restaurants also encourage reservations to reduce waiting times for walk-in diners and overcrowding at entrances.

To better manage dine-in, takeaway and delivery orders, PS.Gourmet, which runs the chain of PS.Cafe restaurants, has a central phone number for all reservations.

This helps space out bookings during peak meal times, says business director Edward Lee, 42. Diners can also ask questions and get information about safety measures.

PS.Cafe and its sister brands Chopsuey Cafe and Jypsy are offering products that are exclusive to its delivery-only concepts Chopstix, Popsup and Sipsy.

But not everyone is in a hurry to open.

The F&B businesses at the integrated resorts, for instance, are resuming dine-in service in phases.

On June 19, the first day of phase two, Ocean Restaurant, Osia Steak and Seafood Grill, Japanese restaurant Syun and the Malaysian Food Street at Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) resumed dine-in. Last Thursday, the one-Michelin-starred restaurant table65 also reopened.

They offer individually wrapped cutlery, while air ionisers have been installed in the restaurants, says an RWS spokesman.

The rest of its F&B outlets will open progressively.

Over at Marina Bay Sands (MBS), five restaurants have reopened, but only for its Sands Rewards members. They are Black Tap, Bread Street Kitchen by Gordon Ramsay, Cut by Wolfgang Puck, Mott 32 and Yardbird Southern Table & Bar.

The rest will open next month. Japanese restaurant Koma will open on Wednesday and db Bistro & Oyster Bar will open on Friday.

When it reopens, Rise restaurant will serve its buffet spread directly to the tables to minimise cross-contamination at buffet stations. A service captain and server will be assigned to a section of about seven to eight tables.

Ms Christine Kaelbel-Sheares, MBS' vice-president of F&B, is also exploring the use of food trolleys and customised protective guards at the buffet counters for added protection.

From Saturday, restaurants operated by MBS will also offer signature dishes for takeaway via its new Gourmet Takeaway platform.

For a start, it will offer more than 120 dishes from the first five reopened restaurants. When all its restaurants are open, more than 260 dishes across its 12 celebrity chef and signature restaurants will be available.

Ms Kaelbel-Sheares says: "The rationale behind this staggered reopening of our restaurants is to ensure a safe and controlled environment for our guests when we restart operations.

"This also allows staff sufficient time to undergo training on new hygiene standards and ease into new formats of operations."

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Social distancing gets creative

Some food and beverage establishments have come up with fun ways to enforce safe distancing guidelines.

Diners at fast-food chain Burger King are required to keep "approximately 20 onion rings away" from the next person, according to the advice printed on its plastic table separators.

Or you can dine like a social distancing king by donning a giant crown. With a circumference of 3.14m, it ensures you are a metre from your dining companions.

The headgear is available - while stocks last - at 45 of the 50 outlets. You can also download and make your own from Burger King's website (burgerking.com.sg).

Wear the crown at any of the 45 restaurants and get a one-for-one Whopper deal. The promotion runs till Saturday.

This is part of a series of creative initiatives to ensure diner safety, says the chain's marketing director Irene Tay.

Over at eight KFC outlets, the fried chicken brand's iconic founder Colonel Sanders is helping to maintain social distancing.

Until July 6, his 2D cut-outs will sit among diners at outlets including those at Jem, Novena Square, Waterway Point and Compass One.

These restaurants typically see larger dine-in crowds during peak dining hours, explains KFC Singapore's general manager Lynette Lee, adding that the chain will review if Colonel Sanders' "role" will be extended beyond July 6.

At other F&B outlets, the use of table shields has been picking up.

Koufu foodcourt at Thomson Plaza put them up recently to separate diners seated at the same table.

Movable 5mm-thick clear acrylic dividers also separate groups of diners at the one-Michelin-starred Shinji by Kanesaka restaurants at Carlton Hotel Singapore and The St Regis Singapore and their sister Japanese restaurant Oshino at Raffles Hotel.

The dividers are also placed between chefs and diners seated at the sushi counters. Chefs serve sushi directly to diners via a hole at the base of the dividers.

Mrs Joni Ong, the restaurants' managing director, says: "Such measures protect our staff as well."

In the lead-up to reopening, she adds, they had even considered emulating popular Japanese ramen chain Ichiran by having diners eat in individual booths with wooden dividers. Ichiran does not have an outlet here.

They eventually canned the idea, she says, as they feel that diners and chefs would prefer to see one another in person.

Other safety measures at the restaurants include stopping the practice of providing diners with hot towels and small finger towels to use after they eat sushi by hand. Instead, they are given a packet of wet wipes each.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 28, 2020, with the headline 'Juggling act for restaurants'. Subscribe