F&B outlets prepare for Omicron wave amid ongoing manpower shortage

Manpower shortage is an ongoing challenge that has plagued the F&B sector in the past two years. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Most food and beverage businesses already have contingency plans in place to ensure business can continue even if more Covid-19 cases surface, said a spokesman for the Restaurant Association of Singapore (RAS) on Saturday (Jan 22).

This includes having staff working on shifts and not cross-deploying them across different outlets.

"As a precautionary measure, all F&B outlets have been faithfully following the regular routine testing requirements to ensure that all F&B front-liners are well and safe," added a RAS spokesman.

The association was responding to queries from The Straits Times, following calls by the Government on Friday for firms to implement continuity plans and adhere strictly to safe management measures to minimise operational disruptions as Covid-19 cases surge.

He added that manpower shortage is an ongoing challenge that has plagued the F&B sector and many other service-oriented sectors in the past two years and even before the pandemic.

Restaurateurs that ST spoke to said the staffing crunch will be felt more keenly during the upcoming festive season.

With the Omicron Covid-19 variant being highly transmissible, any infections among already lean teams would exacerbate the situation.

"If more of our staff get infected and they can't come to work, we'll just have to reduce the number of food orders taken in, that's the only way we can deal with it for now as we're very busy with Chinese New Year preparations at the moment," said Mr Andrew Tjioe, president and chief executive of Tung Lok Group.

Creamier Handcrafted Ice Cream and Coffee and Sunday Folks co-founder Khoh Wan Chin said their product supply would be severely impacted with reduced manpower as the dessert outlets produce their ice creams and confectionery fresh daily.

"As with previous Covid-19 restriction cycles, we will activate business continuity and safe measures such as team staggering, work-from-home and staff development... For outlet operations, we will likely need to reduce product offerings and operating hours," said Ms Khoh.

The dessert outlets have high capacity purifiers, with hand sanitisers and masks provided for staff, she added. High contact areas are regularly sanitised and employees also have staggered meal breaks.

As Chinese New Year approaches, many communal dining concepts are experiencing strong reservation demands, with the situation made more challenging with the manpower shortage, said the RAS spokesman.

Restaurants may reduce capacity, and staff will be busier and service may be slower as a result. "As such, we also seek the understanding and cooperation of our customers when they dine in during this festive season," he added.

French bistro Summer Hill, meanwhile, is prepared to do only takeaways from a temporary kitchen during the festive season amid its move to new premises after its lease at Clementi expires this month.

"On a manpower front, we're able to be a bit leaner because we don't need everyone working every day when we can't do dine-ins. We also foresee more families not wanting to take the risk of dining out," said its chef-owner Anthony Yeoh.

Mr Leong Sheen Jet, co-founder and managing director of steakhouse The Feather Blade, Japanese restaurant Rappu and Japanese-Mexican taco bar Mezcla, said that while the Omicron variant has been a concern, his restaurants have not been impacted significantly.

"This is in part due to our continued efforts to abide by safety measures for Covid-19 and leverage digital solutions like mobile ordering systems to minimise the reliance on manpower," said Mr Leong.

Sanitisation is done after each diner leaves and staff sanitise their hands periodically, he said, adding that weekly testing is carried out to ensure the safety of both guests and employees.

He said he does not foresee a need to further alter business operations but will monitor the developments closely to make changes if necessary.

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