Coronavirus Singapore

Eateries pinning hopes on online orders, takeaways

Many F&B operators are more prepared this time but expect business to still take a hit

Revellers in Haji Lane yesterday. Starting from today until June 13, gatherings are capped at two people and dining in is prohibited. Hawker stall operators said the tightened measures would cause a slump in business, but those who are tenants of gov
Revellers in Haji Lane yesterday. Starting from today until June 13, gatherings are capped at two people and dining in is prohibited. Hawker stall operators said the tightened measures would cause a slump in business, but those who are tenants of government agencies will get a one-month rental waiver. ST PHOTOS: JASON QUAH
Diners at a restaurant at Bugis+ mall yesterday. For many restaurants, clearing the stocks of food in their kitchen was among the first things on their mind.
Diners at a restaurant at Bugis+ mall yesterday. For many restaurants, clearing the stocks of food in their kitchen was among the first things on their mind.ST PHOTOS: JASON QUAH

Restaurants, hawker stalls and other eateries said they will have to rely on online orders and takeaways as dine-in options for customers cease from today.

At least they are better prepared after last year's circuit breaker, when many were forced to go onto online food platforms if they wanted to continue selling.

"I heard from some hawkers that their business actually increased during circuit breaker, so we'll see," said Ms Aries Chan, 41, owner of newly opened nasi lemak stall The Coco Rice at Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre.

"I expected this (the ban on dining in) to happen because the community cases have been rising, so I've made preparations like stocking up on my takeaway packaging," she added.

But while many had braced themselves for dining in to be taken off the menu, they did not expect it to be so soon - and for so long, until June 13.

Ms Nuria Gibert, director of Spanish eatery Restaurant Gaig in Stanley Street, said she had started preparing for takeaway and delivery menus last week. "But we didn't expect it to happen so fast. We do not have much time to get ready with our offerings by Monday," she said. The restaurant is closed on Sundays.

At Western restaurant LeVel33, managing director Martin Bem saw the move coming too.

"Given the increase in cases and number of clusters, we were expecting a response by the Government," he said. "But perhaps not for a whole month, just two weeks or so." The restaurant at Marina Bay Financial Centre is set to roll out its deliveries online.

Mr Brian Stampe, chief operating officer of Commonwealth Concepts, which operates restaurants such as Fat Cow and The Marmalade Pantry, said the group had been expecting the new measures since the first week of May.

He added: "We were ready to pivot to takeaways and deliveries immediately. These options had remained available since we activated them last year. We also kept sufficient disposable ware."

For many restaurants, clearing the stocks of food in their kitchen was among the first things on their mind. Said Ms Gibert: "We have to be very strategic with how we plan our takeaway and delivery offerings based on our resources and aim to cut extra costs. Right now, stock control is the key."

Some restaurateurs said that however prepared they were, the dine-in ban will hit their bottom line. Said Mr Bem: "No restaurant in a prime location with a substantial dining area and the necessary staffing can completely pivot its business to delivery... With delivery companies charging around 30 per cent commission, it is difficult to make a profit."

Commonwealth Concept's Mr Stampe said the no dine-in rule will affect restaurants in the group differently. During last year's circuit breaker, some of the casual restaurants like Italian eatery PastaMania performed well, especially as they are located in residential enclaves.

But its eateries in the Central Business District, such as Japanese restaurant Kinki in Collyer Quay, had poor demand for deliveries as people were working from home.

The Government will be increasing support for F&B businesses under the Jobs Support Scheme, subsidising 50 per cent of the first $4,600 of gross monthly wages paid to local employees during this period. This is up from 10 per cent previously.

Mr Bem said the increased support was a great relief. But he added: "The second big fixed cost is the rent and we now need to see if we will get direct or indirect support like the property tax rebate previously.

"If we get the support we were lucky to receive last year, we expect our situation to be maybe marginally better this time. Otherwise, it could be worse."

Hawker stall operators said the tightened measures would cause a slump in business, but those who are tenants of government agencies will get a one-month rental waiver.

"I think I'll be able to survive, because the Government also waived the rent for one month," said The Coco Rice's Ms Chan, who said she has applied to tie up with delivery platform GrabFood, but has not heard back from them.

Ms Ana Fong, general manager of pastry shop Tong Heng, said she was not concerned about business taking a hit over the next month as the store has already pivoted towards deliveries and takeaways amid the pandemic.

She said: "Our dining area remained closed even after the circuit breaker for the safety of our team and the brand itself. I'm glad we did that because now that we're back to square one, it's not going to make much of a difference."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 16, 2021, with the headline 'Eateries pinning hopes on online orders, takeaways'. Subscribe