Diners still trying to book multiple tables for larger groups despite Covid-19 safe distancing reminders

The majority of diners are adhering to safe distancing measures. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Diners are still attempting to book multiple tables at some food and beverage (F&B) outlets to circumvent social distancing rules, although the majority are adhering to safe distancing measures.

Checks by The Straits Times on Saturday (Aug 22) with three restaurant owners showed that some patrons continue in attempts to bend the rules that limit each table to five guests.

Mr Sid Kim, owner of Korean-Mexican restaurants Vatos Urban Tacos at South Beach and Vatos Cantina at Holland Village, said both his outlets receive at least one request a day to accommodate groups larger than five people across multiple tables.

These requests, whether made online or during walk-ins, are immediately turned down, he added.

"We are almost biting the hand that feeds us," said Mr Kim.

"We need customers to survive but we are asked to police them ourselves now, which is not really our job. But the situation being what it is, I guess we don't have much choice."

On Friday, Education Minister Lawrence Wong said only households with more than five members can book more than one table to share a meal together.

Mr Wong co-chairs the multi-ministry task force battling Covid-19.

The task force also tightened other rules recently, with F&B outlets limited to recorded music played softly in the background so that patrons do not have to raise their voices to be heard.

Live music and live broadcasts - both on television and radio - as well as video screenings are still banned.

Mr Kim said while he will accept bookings from large households, he is worried diners may "work" the system and claim to be from the same home.

"How do we really know everyone is part of the same family? How can we verify? If a safe ambassador comes and discovers that several members are not family, does the restaurant get in trouble?" he added.

Mr Collin Ho, chief executive of casual restaurant chain Collin's, said its 10 outlets have not encountered diners making multiple-table reservations.

"Occasionally, our staff have had to politely remind our customers that they can only remove their masks once the food and drinks have been served," he added, noting that customers generally do not linger after they have finished their meals.

Mr Ho welcomed the new rule allowing households with more than five family members to dine together.

"Our staff will continue to seat the customers at tables based on the 1m rule and are trained to keep a lookout for customers who do not comply with this safety measure," he said.

Mr Cedric Tang, managing director of local heritage restaurant brand Ka-Soh, said he has been quite "lucky" as most of his diners typically turn up in groups of three or four.

While only one of his three outlets has a sound system playing soft background music, he is seeking clarity on what constitutes as "soft music".

"If there are 10 safe distancing ambassadors going around enforcing this, I believe all 10 will have a different standard of what 'soft music' is. How soft is soft?"

Last Saturday, hotpot restaurant Hai Xian Lao was fined $2,000 and ordered to suspend operations for 10 days for failing to comply with safe management measures.

The restaurant, located on the fourth level of Shaw House in Orchard Road, had allowed customers to consume alcohol on its premises after 10.30pm.

It also failed to ensure that group sizes did not exceed five people.

Checks by the authorities showed that a group of more than 20 people had been seated in a locked private room within the restaurant.

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