F&B businesses in S'pore brace for plunge in earnings after latest no dining in rule

No dining in will be allowed at food & beverage establishments from May 16 to June 13, 2021. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - With the sudden announcement that no dining in is allowed at food and beverage (F&B) establishments from Sunday (May 16) to June 13, businesses like restaurants, hawkers and even nightlife establishments that pivoted to F&B, are bracing for a huge financial impact as they prepare to switch back to takeaways and deliveries.

As part of the stricter measures announced on Friday, eateries and hawker centres will offer only takeaway and delivery during this period.

"Most hawkers are more prepared than the previous time (during the circuit breaker), but the immediate concerns are managing our inventories on food and takeaway packaging... We might not have enough stock for all," noted Mr Melvin Chew, 42, founder of Facebook group Hawkers United - Dabao 2020.

The response since the announcement has been overwhelming, with many in the 288,000-member group asking for help, said Mr Chew, who owns Jin Ji Teochew Braised Duck & Kway Chap at Chinatown Complex Food Centre.

He said another main concern is helping elderly hawkers get through this period. "Many young people have come forward to offer to help them engage delivery platforms and set up social media pages," he added.

The restrictions are aimed at reducing the risk of transmission due to the higher risk posed by customers in close proximity and dining in for a prolonged period with their masks off, said the Ministry of Health.

Speaking at a virtual press conference on Friday, Education Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19, said: "I think the businesses that will be the hardest hit will be the food and beverage (F&B) sector, because of the restriction for dining in."

In view of this, the Government will raise its wage support for F&B establishments to 50 per cent, up from 10 per cent, under the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS).

However, several F&B-related business associations are hoping for further support from landlords and delivery services.

In a statement, a spokesman for the Restaurant Association of Singapore (RAS) said the new measures will definitely further impact the F&B sector.

The association, which has over 500 members representing over 800 brands and 5,000 outlets, urged all F&B operators to "quickly pivot their focus to food delivery to make up for the shortfall in the dining in business".

The RAS also appealed to landlords and food delivery platforms to work closely with F&B operators to "provide them with much-needed rental and delivery cost aid during this difficult period."

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Singapore Nightlife Business Association (SNBA) president Joseph Ong said: "Everybody is a bit shocked and most are trying to figure out what kind of support we can get."

Nightlife businesses such as bars, nightclubs, discotheques and karaoke lounges have not been allowed to operate their core business since March last year.

As at Friday, 406 nightlife operators had received the Singapore Food Agency's foodshop or snack counter licence and pivoted to F&B.

One of them, A Phat Cat Collective, which runs lounges Rails and Nineteen80 in Tanjong Pagar Road, said the latest restrictions will significantly impact its business.

"We were just getting back on our feet and will now look into cocktail and food delivery channels, but we expect revenue may drop by 80 per cent," said co-founder Joshua Pillai, 39.

A Phat Cat Collective, which runs lounges Rails (pictured) and Nineteen80 in Tanjong Pagar Road, said the latest restrictions will significantly impact its business. PHOTO: RAILS

Estimating that the latest measures will set the nightlife industry back six to seven months, Mr Ong said: "We are not sure whether all of this will come back, and in effect, we have been asked to close, but the salaries still need to be paid... So we appeal to the Government to look into this."

Similarly, smaller businesses already feeling the pinch are even more worried now. Forty-seat dive bar Jeffo's at Duxton Hill is also looking into delivery and takeaway options as an immediate response.

But its founder-owner, Jeffrey Morias, 68, said: "We are expecting a very steep decline in sales even if we move towards a delivery or takeaway service model. The reality is that it's not going to happen in a day or two."

Diners have also had their plans scuppered.

Civil servant Rachel Tan, 25, had planned a day of activities for her 26th birthday on May 18, including an omakase lunch and a pottery lesson.

She said: "I am quite depressed because I was looking forward to it, and now I won't be able to do anything. My birthday plans last year were also scrapped because of the circuit breaker."

But others like Mr Ben Chan, 28, feels the move was necessary to stem the growing number of community cases here.

Mr Chan, who works in a bank and eats out with his friends several times a week, said: "Most interactions in my workplace are held digitally, so dining out with friends and meeting face-to-face was a way to unwind.

"The thought of suddenly having to buy food back and eat it at home sounds quite suffocating.

"I feel the measures are strict, but I would rather have a tight lockdown at one go and keep the cases at bay instead of a prolonged fight with Covid-19."

Additional reporting by Adeline Tan

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