Eatery quieter without outdoor seating

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Dec 30, 2013

FOR six months, Madam Anita Wang has played by the rules.

She has not placed a single table or chair outside her Tian Tian steamboat restaurant at the 101 building along Beach Road since receiving a final warning in June to either comply or shut her restaurant for good.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) had said that she had been operating "unauthorised outdoor refreshment areas (ORAs)" on the public walkway since 2009.

She had also been fined at least 38 times over the last three years by the Land Transport Authority (LTA), costing her about $20,000.

But Madam Wang is miffed when she sees nearby restaurants in Beach Road and Liang Seah Street seating their customers outdoors even now. She said her own business has fallen by more than half, without giving figures.

She has not been able to pay her rent for four months since September, according to her landlord Robert Lim, 60.

"We wrote to LTA and URA, asking if they would consider letting my tenant put just one row of tables and chairs outside," he said.

"We also sent photographs of nearby restaurants to them, to show them how unfair it is.

"But we are at their mercy, and they have stuck to their decision."

Added Madam Wang, who declined to give her age: "It is very unfair. It was more crowded at my restaurant last time. Now, (customers) know there's less space and they go elsewhere."

When The Straits Times visited the area last Thursday evening, several restaurants had customers seated outdoors, with some right next to the road.

Owners and workers of two other steamboat restaurants such as Zhong Hua steamboat in Beach Road said that while they did not have the permit for ORAs, they continue to let their customers eat outdoors.

"Otherwise, we can't do business," said a waiter who declined to be named. "It's okay because no one has complained so far."

Five other restaurants said they are allowed to place two to three tables outside as the authorities visited them twice this year to check on their outdoor seating arrangements.

"A few tables outside is fine as long as there is enough space to walk in front of the restaurant, and we don't block stairways," explained one owner.

A URA spokesman said it has not received new complaints about Madam Wang's restaurant and the use of outdoor space since June. When asked if other restaurants in the area are allowed to let their customers dine outside, she would say only that URA will continue to monitor the situation closely in these areas.

She added that it takes into consideration "on-site situations, other agencies' requirements and public feedback when dealing with ORAs".

"Where necessary, when the breach of planning control causes public nuisance or obstruction to the users in the area, URA and the relevant authorities will take appropriate enforcement actions."

Madam Wang, who has been running her restaurant for five years, said she has no plans to close at the moment.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Dec 30, 2013

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