Singapore eateries gear up to manage crowds safely during festive season

Food and beverage outlets are not permitted to accept bookings from groups that are larger than five. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - Eateries are gearing up for the festive season by implementing a host of measures that will help them accommodate customers in a safe way amid the pandemic.

Some restaurants are hiring more staff to ensure customers adhere to safe management measures, while others are putting up more visual reminders, such as posters, on the Covid-19 regulations.

Under current rules that will remain in effect until Dec 27, social gatherings in groups of more than five are not allowed outside an individual's residence.

Food and beverage (F&B) outlets are not permitted to accept bookings from groups that are larger than five, even if such groups are split across multiple tables. Groups are not allowed to intermingle.

From Dec 28, when phase three of Singapore's reopening kicks in, people will be allowed to meet in groups of up to eight for social gatherings.

Restaurants are taking steps to ensure that customers do not let down their guard before phase three, even as they make merry during the festive season.

Mr G. Shanmugam, owner of Bottoms Up restaurant in Telok Ayer, said he will be accepting fewer reservations over the next two weeks to ensure that customers do not try to flout the rules by making separate reservations and then mingle across tables on site.

Mr Stephane Heard, vice-president of F&B operations at Como Dempsey, which operates six restaurants in the Dempsey area, said it hired more part-time staff to help manage the large crowds expected on Christmas Day.

All these measures are on top of existing ones in place since June, say those interviewed.

But while businesses take steps to ensure the rules are adhered to, they are also seeking cooperation from customers.

Mr Wei Chan, honorary secretary of the Restaurant Association of Singapore, said that the penalties for individuals pale in comparison to the costs borne by the establishments.

Individuals who flout safe distancing measures will be fined $300 for the first offence.

Businesses, however, will be fined and forced to close temporarily, Mr Chan said, citing the Seoul Garden outlet at Tampines Mall which had to suspend full operations for 10 days for failing to comply with Covid-19 safe management measures.

A 32-year-old service engineer had tested positive for Covid-19 after having dinner with 12 family members at the Seoul Garden outlet on Nov 21.

"Being forced to close during the festive period will hurt establishments badly," Mr Chan said.

The Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE) said on Friday (Dec 18) that there will be more checks on F&B outlets to make sure that safe management measures are being complied with. The stepped-up surveillance will extend over the next few weeks to cover the end-of-year festive period.

Mr Tong Tien Teck, an employee at seafood restaurant Momma Kong's, saw safe distancing ambassadors walk by the Mosque Street establishment thrice on Saturday afternoon.

"They usually take a look at the (interior) of the restaurant from outside, and then give a thumbs up before walking away," he added.

A check with several restaurants in the Chinatown area revealed that the ambassadors usually conduct checks in the area twice a day.

Several restaurant staff said that the crowds were not significantly larger, as they are still dealing with the lack of tourists.

Despite this, queues were seen forming outside a few eateries in Chinatown and Tanjong Pagar, with patrons keeping a safe distance from other groups in spite of limited pavement space outside the restaurants.

Speaking at a separate event on Saturday, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment Amy Khor said it is important for Singaporeans to realise that Covid-19 was still around.

"We cannot afford to let our guard down. Going into phase three still means we have to maintain vigilance," she told reporters.

Software engineer Imran Hamid, 32, is supportive of more checks.

"It has been more crowded over the last few weeks since the school holidays started, so I think it's good that there's going to be more stringent checks during this period," he said.

Mr James Jesuvhass, 70, a retired general manager in the hospitality sector, said he would have preferred phase three to be implemented before Christmas since it is likely that people would hold New Year celebrations early.

Privacy consultant William Lim, 53, said people here are used to the phased approach to reopening, a strategy he said that has yielded success.

"The Government took many steps to ensure things are okay, and just look at how we have improved compared with other countries," he said.

Ms Annie Huang, 46, a private tutor and mother of two, said phase three gives larger families the opportunity to meet up before the new school year begins.

Her children are looking forward to going out for a meal with their cousins.

Designer Kelvin Tan, 41, described the timing of phase three as fair.

"Timing phase three for the new year will allow everyone to celebrate. If phase three is only after the New Year, only those who celebrate Chinese New Year will benefit."

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