Twenty-three food and beverage (F&B) outlets were caught flouting Covid-19 safe management measures during stepped-up checks over the weekend.
Many of the breaches involved groups of more than five people seated together, mingling between tables, or alcohol being served and consumed past 10.30pm, the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE) said yesterday.
The rules for phase two, which began on June 19, state that groups of up to five people are permitted for social gatherings, but there should be no mixing.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Aug 21 that people should refrain from booking multiple tables for large gatherings in F&B outlets, and urged restaurants not to accept such reservations.
It reiterated the warning yesterday.
Over the weekend, checks were carried out by various agencies, including the police, at 149 F&B outlets in known hot spots.
The MSE said the breaches are being reviewed and "appropriate enforcement action will be taken, including temporary closure of the outlets and fines".
This comes after Education Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry Covid-19 task force, said last Wednesday that enforcement agencies would step up checks on F&B outlets.
He noted that while most people are complying with the rules, "there are still a few breaches that we pick up on a daily basis, and they typically happen at popular nightspots".
The breaches unearthed during the weekend included an Orchard Road outlet that served beer in metal teapots to 13 customers after 11pm.
Bottles of beer sold to customers after the 10.30pm cut-off time were concealed at the bottom of the fridge.
Mr Wong noted last Wednesday that F&B outlets and diners who breach safe management measures will now be penalised even for the first offence, instead of receiving warnings as had been the case.
Our answer is always 'no'.
MR ANDREW TJIOE, chief executive of TungLok Group, on customers trying to make reservations for more than five people .
HARD TO MANAGE
As long as we do not mingle across tables, we are not breaking any rules, I think? But I understand that going out as a group bigger than five makes things difficult.
MS CRYSTAL LOH, marketing intern.
The MOH said on the same day that this would take immediate effect as there has been sufficient time for F&B outlets and customers to adjust to the rules.
But restaurants are still facing problems with diners trying to break the rules.
Mr Andrew Tjioe, chief executive of TungLok Group, said customers have continued to try to make reservations for more than five people, despite last week's announcement that checks would be stepped up.
"There will always be such requests, but our answer is always 'no'," he added.
He noted that TungLok has recently printed placards that will be flashed at customers reminding them not to mingle between tables, if such incidents are observed.
Mr Yuan Oeij, owner and chairman of The Prive Group, said his restaurants have continued to receive requests for large group bookings or for small groups that ask to be seated next to each other, which had to be declined.
He said that some customers queued to enter the restaurants, but left after being told that Prive would not admit their group of more than five, with some saying they would rather go elsewhere where they could flout the rules.
Seoul Garden Group general manager Garry Lam said that while it was a challenge to manage the expectations of customers who came in groups of more than five, most were receptive after staff explained the rules.
One diner, marketing intern Crystal Loh, 23, said she was not sure whether groups larger than five are allowed to dine at separate tables in a restaurant if they stay apart.
Ms Loh: "As long as we do not mingle across tables, we are not breaking any rules, I think?
"But I understand that going out as a group bigger than five makes things difficult because restaurants have a hard time enforcing the rules and friends have the tendency to come together, even if they keep to separate groups of five."
Some of the violations
Many of the 23 food and beverage (F&B) outlets that breached safe management rules on the weekend had more than five customers seated together or mingling between tables, while others were serving alcohol past 10.30pm. The Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment yesterday outlined some of the breaches:
• A Chinatown eatery accepted a booking of 10 customers and seated them at two tables in a private dining room, but staff told enforcement officials that the people did not know one another.
• Six people were caught drinking at an Orchard Road outlet around midnight. Officers had heard loud conversations from the premises, which were locked, and told the F&B operator to open the door but they found no sign of drinks on the table. Closed-circuit television footage later showed the customers and owner clearing the glasses and hiding the alcohol just before opening the door to the officers.
• A group of 15 customers were seated across four tables at an F&B outlet in the Boat Quay area for a planned dinner and were mingling between tables.
• Eight people were seated together at a long table at an outlet in Jurong East.
The ministry said: "Dining out is an activity that involves considerable risks because it entails gathering in enclosed spaces, without masks on, and for a prolonged duration. We will not hesitate to take firm enforcement action."