Eateries gear up to abide by latest curbs

Restaurants here are gearing up to fall in line with the latest Covid-19 restrictions for the Chinese New Year period - with ideas that include the playing of pre-recorded messages during lohei, in view of diners being told to avoid the usual shouting of auspicious phrases.

While eating establishments The Sunday Times spoke to do not foresee dine-in plans or reservations being greatly affected, some caterers said they are concerned about the extended impact on their businesses since the start of the pandemic. Some are even appealing to the Government for aid.

Those that rely on larger orders - such as for buffets - will be directly hit by the new measures announced on Friday, such as a limit of eight visitors per household per day from Tuesday.

The Health Ministry has also advised that individuals visit only family members, and at most two households a day.

Companies have also been asked not to organise social activities around CNY.

Mr Andrew Tjioe, president and chief executive of the Tung Lok Group, said that while he expects to see cancellations for corporate gatherings across his 14 restaurant brands in Singapore, bookings and delivery orders are still streaming in from families.

Ms Khor Boon Foong, 36, a senior supervisor at Tung Lok Seafood in Paya Lebar Quarter, said staff will ensure customers keep their voices down and that the requisite 1m distance between tables is maintained.

At Qian Xi Restaurant, also in Paya Lebar, manager Sharon Chan said it will use LED screens to display notices reminding customers of regulations.

Aside from signage, Mr Francis Ng, chief executive of House of Seafood in Punggol, said he will employ more staff to help enforce measures and play pre-recorded lohei-tossing messages when serving the dish.

"On the first day, we're usually closed but this year we will open so... we can spread out the flow so it won't be so packed," he said.

"I don't want a second lockdown and to suffer again."

He expects an increase in delivery orders, a trend also anticipated by the Si Chuan Dou Hua chain of eateries, which is offering a 15 per cent discount on self-pickups.

For hair salon owner Elsa Lim, 55, the new measures have already disrupted her hosting plans. "We'll probably have to reduce the amount of food we order because fewer people will be able to come."

Select Group's founder and managing director Vincent Tan said his CNY offerings are already tailored for smaller groups.

But other caterers said that since the start of the pandemic, sales have plummeted by 50 per cent to 70 per cent.

"We need the Government's help on the path towards recovery," said Yeh Lai Siang's business development director Claire Tan.

"The space now is very competitive," said Le Xin Catering Group's managing director Desmond Hong, pointing to restaurants offering CNY-specific takeaways and partnering delivery providers for the festive period.

"We are planning to introduce additional smaller menus with promotions... Beyond CNY, we are looking to diversify... by moving into manufacturing, long-term supply of staff meals to offices and more."

  • Additional reporting by Choo Yun Ting
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 24, 2021, with the headline 'Eateries gear up to abide by latest curbs'. Subscribe