SINGAPORE - Restaurants in Singapore are gearing up to fall in line with the latest Covid-19 restrictions for the upcoming Chinese New Year period - with ideas that include the playing of pre-recorded messages while tossing yusheng or during lohei, in view of diners being told to avoid the usual shouting of auspicious phrases.
While eating establishments The Sunday Times spoke to on Saturday (Jan 23) did not foresee dine-in plans or reservations being greatly affected, some caterers said they were concerned about the extended impact on their businesses since the start of the pandemic. Some are even appealing to the Government for assistance.
Those who rely on larger orders - such as for buffets - will be directly hit by new measures announced on Friday, such as a limit of eight visitors per household per day from Jan 26.
The health ministry has also advised that individuals visit only family and at most two other households a day. And companies have been asked to not organise gatherings and social activities around Chinese New Year, which starts on Feb 12.
Mr Andrew Tjioe, president and chief executive of the Tung Lok Group, said that while he expected to see cancellations for corporate gatherings across his 14 restaurant brands in Singapore, bookings and delivery orders were still streaming in from families.
Prior to Friday's announcement, Tung Lok had already planned for - and implemented - more muted forms of lohei revelry, said Mr Tjioe.
"We've had some early celebrations and we practised having the waitstaff serve the yusheng with just some simple phrases - we basically minimised the talking," he explained.
Ms Khor Boon Foong, 36, senior supervisor at Tung Lok Seafood in Paya Lebar Quarter, said her staff would be on the lookout to ensure customers keep their voices down and that the requisite 1m distance between tables is maintained.
At the Qian Xi Restaurant, also in Paya Lebar, manager Sharon Chan said they would use a projector and LED screens to display notices reminding customers of the regulations.
"I think most customers are understanding about the regulations because everyone is mindful about safety during this Covid-19 period," added the 41-year-old.
Aside from signage, Mr Francis Ng, chief executive of the House of Seafood restaurant at Punggol, said he would employ more staff to help enforce measures, and play pre-recorded lohei-tossing messages while serving the dish to customers.
He said his restaurant was almost fully booked for the Chinese New Year stretch, and was hopeful for no last-minute cancellations.
"On the first day we're usually closed, but this year we will open so customers can come by throughout - and we can spread out the flow so it won't be so packed," added Mr Ng. "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.
Linda Loke, its director of restaurants, bars and events, said all three outlets - at UOB Plaza and two Parkroyal hotels - were unaffected by the announcements and were, as of Saturday, booked at 90 per cent capacity for Chinese New Year eve.
A more mixed picture was painted by catering businesses, with some telling ST it was too early to tell if the latest measures would affect orders.
Kuah Bing Cheng, the business development manager of Peranakan caterer Chilli Api, said that orders usually pick up one to two weeks prior to CNY.
Select Group's founder and managing director Vincent Tan said his Chinese New Year offerings were already tailored for smaller groups of eight to 10.
But other caterers told ST that since the start of the pandemic, their sales had plummeted by 50 to 70 per cent compared with previous years.
"We need the Government's help on the path towards recovery," said Ms Claire Tan, business development director at Yeh Lai Siang.
"The space right now is very competitive," said Le Xin Catering Group's managing director Desmond Hong, pointing to restaurants offering Chinese New Year-specific takeaway options and partnering food delivery providers for the festive period.
"We are planning to introduce additional smaller menus with promotions... Beyond CNY, we are looking to diversify our business by moving into manufacturing, long-term supply of staff meals to offices and more."
Correction note: A previous version of the story misspelt Mr Kuah's name.