S'pore's F&B operators fear falling into a deeper hole with new Covid-19 restrictions on dining in

People dining in at Heavenly Wang cafe in AMK Hub on July 17, 2021. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - Restaurateurs in Singapore were looking forward to the first weekend of relaxed rules allowing groups of five to dine in after three weeks of hosting groups of two.

Then, a cluster involving KTV lounges broke on Wednesday (July 14). There are currently 148 cases in the fast-growing cluster.

And from Monday, dining in at eateries will again be reduced to groups of two if patrons have not been vaccinated, and groups of five if they have.

LeVeL33 founding managing director Martin Bem is one of the many in the food and beverage (F&B) sector who are unhappy with the changes.

He told The Sunday Times: "We were already massively upset about these abusive KTVs nullifying all our common efforts, even before the tightening news came out. Now, it is, of course, worse."

The microbrewery in Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower 1 has received a few changes in reservations, most of which are postponements.

Dr Bem said LeVeL33 had followed safe management measures and gone beyond them, such as installing air purifiers that sanitise the air with ultraviolet light, only to be hit with a new wave of restrictions because of errant KTV operators.

"That is unacceptable and unfair for the hundreds of thousands of employees of the food service industry in Singapore, who all risk their income," he said.

The team at LeVeL33 is not the only one upset.

A spokesman for Fleurette, a fine-dining restaurant in Rangoon Road, said that although it understands that the situation is fluid, it feels new rules are often announced without enough time for the industry to react, leading to wasted ingredients or cancelled reservations costing thousands of dollars.

"With each new ruling, we lose bookings and regular customers who are apprehensive to return, lest their booking gets delayed again," said the spokesman. Some have had their reservations delayed for months.

The spokesman said that with the return to a cap of two people for dine-in after barely a few days, "we will be back in the same hole we were in just two to three weeks ago".

Fleurette also called for more assistance from the Government, saying the subsidy it receives from the Jobs Support Scheme has not been enough. The 10 per cent wage support offered by the scheme has been extended from July 26 to Aug 8 for F&B operators and other sectors affected.

A spokesman for the Restaurant Association of Singapore (RAS) said the F&B industry faces another set of challenges with the new rules, which differentiate the approach for individuals based on their vaccination status and will require a great deal of operational effort to implement.

Aside from vaccinated individuals, people who have not been vaccinated but have negative pre-event tests and recovered Covid-19 patients can also join or form groups of five.

Customers dining in at a Gochi-So Shokudo outlet in Northpoint City on July 17, 2021. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

However, groups at hawker centres, foodcourts and coffee shops must not make up more than two.

RAS also called on landlords to assist F&B tenants, noting that most landlords have extended only the government-mandated rebates for 2020 and offered no rebates so far this year, despite the heightened alert phase in May.

Retail outlets in malls are also feeling the pinch.

A sales assistant at a clothing store in VivoCity said on Friday that the number of customers had increased when dine-in restrictions were eased last Monday. But the store has noticed a decrease in customers by 30 per cent since Thursday.

At Ang Mo Kio Hub and Northpoint City on Saturday, families were rushing to dine out together one last time before restrictions kick in on Monday.

Ms Fazeela Tow, 35, was having lunch at All American Food with her mother and her young son.

Ms Tow, who works in customer service and is getting her first vaccine dose next week, said: "When we heard about the revised rule, I quickly decided to use this chance to dine out one last time."

At Sanook Kitchen in Northpoint City, Mr Raja Razie was enjoying a meal with his wife and four children. The couple are receiving their first dose on Monday and only their eldest child has had his first.

Mr Razie, 40, who is self-employed in the consultancy and advertising business, said the family had to eat in their car at East Coast Park back when groups of only two were allowed to dine in.

"We were so happy when we heard that we could dine in numbers of five, so one of us could at least eat with two kids each."

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