ALTERED STATES

Coronavirus: Route to takeaways and deliveries

In this circuit breaker period, some restaurants are offering takeaway discounts or have their own delivery systems while others depend on delivery platforms

A $10 takeaway meal from Grand Hyatt called “Meal in a Box, Wellness on the Go” with slow-braised Australian grass-fed beef rendang and steamed organic rice.
A $10 takeaway meal from Grand Hyatt called “Meal in a Box, Wellness on the Go” with slow-braised Australian grass-fed beef rendang and steamed organic rice. PHOTOS: GRAND HYATT SINGAPORE, SAINT PIERRE

With dining-in no longer allowed from last Tuesday, restaurants that choose to remain open had to come up with takeaway and delivery options.

Takeaway is the easier route. In fact, it may be more cost-effective than dining in as the eatery no longer requires as many wait staff or dish washers on duty. There are packaging costs, but they are not as significant.

The cost savings, as well as keen competition, may explain why many restaurants are offering takeaway discounts. Crystal Jade, for example, is giving 30 per cent off takeaway orders.

Four Seasons Hotel is offering a 20 per cent discount. Diners can also go for a bundle set, at $38 for two courses and $46 for three, from its One-Ninety Restaurant. The sets come with dishes such as wagyu beef burger, roasted seabass and laksa. The wagyu burger alone would have cost $42 a la carte.

Some establishments had already launched takeaway specials since diners stopped going out as much two months ago.

Since Feb 20, Putien, which has its one-Michelin-starred flagship in Kitchener Road, has been giving 20 per cent off for takeaway deals that include set meals and some a la carte items. The promotion goes on till the end of the year.

DELIVERY IS MORE CHALLENGING

Home delivery, however, is a different kettle of fish. Many restaurants depend on delivery platforms Deliveroo, Foodpanda and GrabFood.

In Putien's case, delivery did boost business, contributing up to 50 per cent of its sales for some outlets before the circuit breaker period started. But its delivery radius is limited as it serves only areas in the vicinity of each of its 13 outlets.

Then there is the commission fee charged by the delivery platforms.

Mr Loh Lik Peng, who owns restaurants such as Burnt Ends, Meatsmith and Pollen, tells The Sunday Times it is anything from 25 to 30 per cent of the bill.

He adds: "The fees charged by the delivery platforms ensure it's almost profit-free if we go down this route."

Industry insiders say for mid-to high-end restaurants, the profit margin can be much less than 30 per cent, even down to just 10 per cent after deducting rental, food and manpower bills - though some of the costs have now been cushioned by government measures. More money is made through drink sales.

On the difference between dine-in and takeaway or delivery, Mr Loh notes: "We know from experience that, at best, you get 30 per cent of your usual revenue because you just can't reach the same audience. And you can't upsell or move drinks."

But it is not like he has a choice in these times. "We will use whatever we can make from (deliveries and takeaways) to cover wages. It's definitely not a money-making exercise, but it may mitigate some losses."

His restaurants are monitoring developments over the next two weeks.

He says: "We are not entirely certain there is enough business for all of them to remain viable, but we are going to try very hard."

A closed Facebook group called Singapore Restaurant Rescue was also started last Sunday for independent eateries not listed on major food delivery services to reach out to customers with their offers.

It has more than 40,000 members, comprising restaurant owners and diners.

Enterprise Singapore has also announced that food and beverage businesses can save 20 per cent of delivery costs if they use third-party logistics firms such as Lalamove and Zeek.

GOING ON THEIR OWN

Some big players like five-star hotels already have their own delivery systems for food takeaways and home deliveries.

The Goodwood Park Hotel, for example, has its own call centre. Customers can also order via its website. The food is delivered by the hotel's drivers.

The hotel has closed L'Espresso cafe and the fine-dining Gordon Grill until May 4, but is taking orders for all its other restaurants, including Chinese restaurant Min Jiang at Dempsey.

A hotel spokesman says that in the few weeks before the circuit breaker period started, there were only about 20 takeaway and delivery orders a day, mainly takeaways from Min Jiang.

The numbers are expected to go up now that dine-in is banned, but the hotel is not optimistic.

The spokesman adds: "We do not expect the takeaway and delivery business to make up for the loss as many of our guests prefer dining in and there is stiff competition from the many food and beverage players."

At Pan Pacific Singapore, an existing e-commerce platform for Pacific Market Place, created to sell its housemade sausages, also now takes orders for islandwide food delivery from Japanese restaurant Keyaki and Cantonese restaurant Hai Tien Lo. The delivery charge of $20 is waived for orders of at least $100.

Grand Hyatt has also created $10 takeaway meals called "Meal in a Box, Wellness on the Go", but delivers only within a 4km radius and with a minimum of 20 orders.

Smaller restaurant groups have also set up their own platforms in the past week to reach customers islandwide.

The Cicheti Group, which owns casual Italian restaurants, not only uses delivery platforms such as Oddle, Deliveroo, Grab and Foodpanda, but has also launched its own system online and through WhatsApp. It charges a flat $10 delivery fee.

It has also tweaked some of its offerings to make them suitable for delayed consumption.

Ms Liling Ong, a partner of the group, says: "Most of our pastas at Bar Cicheti are cooked a la minute and meant to be enjoyed immediately. Transporting them would alter their texture and taste.

"Our solution was to create DIY pasta kits comprising fresh, handmade pasta and a sauce of your choice packed separately. You heat them up together."

FINE DINING AT HOME

Such thinking outside the box is how fine-dining French restaurant Saint Pierre hopes to keep business going.

The two-Michelin-starred restaurant in One Fullerton is closed for a month, but chef-owner Emmanuel Stroobant and his wife Edina Hong came up with anomakase bento box comprising eight items plus cheeses and desserts for home delivery.

Saint Pierre’s omakase bento box comprises eight items plus cheeses and desserts for home delivery.
Saint Pierre's omakase bento box comprises eight items plus cheeses and desserts for home delivery. PHOTO: SAINT PIERRE

The bento is delivered by the restaurant's staff in full uniform, who returnin the morning to collect the box. Everything is eaten chilled and the food features premium Japanese ingredients such as kinmedai, hamachi and Omi beef.

To spice things up, diners can enjoy the meal virtually with friends and family in other homes through the Zoom video meeting app.

Everyone logs in at an appointed time and Stroobant appears at the start to introduce the dishes.

But the restaurant needs an order of 15 to 30 boxes and at $180 or $220 a person, it is a hefty bill.

CHANGES MAY BE HERE TO STAY

The new normal may have a permanent impact on the dining scene here. Many restaurants say they will continue with the takeaway and delivery options even after things return to normal.

Mr S.M. Pang of New Ubin Seafood is planning to launch UbinEats, a single-person meal delivery service, soon. The restaurant now delivers dishes from its a la carte menu, most of which are meant to be shared.

Cicheti's Ms Ong adds: "As much as we are not set up to be a delivery group, it is a crucial evolution of the food industry we must embrace. I look at the pandemic as a key push factor to venture into this new space."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 12, 2020, with the headline Route to takeaways and deliveries. Subscribe