Restaurant hires airline crew to manage crowds during CNY reunion dinners

Friends (from left) Png Jun Yong, Morris Kam, Howard Tan, Benjamin Hoong and Clara Tan at House of Seafood on Jan 28, 2021. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - To remind diners to comply with safe management measures at its five outlets, Chinese restaurant chain Peach Garden hired 12 cabin crew members as guest relations managers.

And, with Chinese New Year approaching next week, restaurants and families are taking steps to ensure they celebrate the occasion responsibly. This comes as the Government is concerned about a possible spike in Covid-19 infections following the festivities.

With only eight visitors allowed in each home daily during Chinese New Year, many have been organising early reunion dinners.

Mr Darren Yew, general manager of Peach Garden Group of Restaurants, said it hired the cabin crew members to provide quality service to customers while reminding them to comply with safe management measures.

He said: "Since they are trained and well known for their impeccable service standards, they are able to provide the highest level of service to our customers and ensure that they have a memorable dining experience at our restaurants."

Restaurants told The Sunday Times they are seeing more takeaways and deliveries this year compared with the Chinese New Year period last year, with some diners cancelling dine-in reservations.

Mr Yew said Peach Garden has seen around a 60 per cent to 80 per cent jump in takeaways and deliveries compared with last year.

He added that it has recruited additional drivers to cope with the unprecedented demand.

Mr Andrew Tjioe, president and chief executive of Tung Lok Group, said his restaurants have seen a 20 per cent to 30 per cent increase in takeaways and deliveries.

Meanwhile, Si Chuan Dou Hua restaurants' director of restaurants, bars and events, Ms Linda Loke, said the outlets have seen a 15 per cent jump.

Madam Fanny Lim, 66, an assistant at a pancake stall, hosted an early reunion dinner with her sister's family and her own on Friday.

She said: "In the past, we used to have 10 people at reunion dinners and even 40 or 50 people invited for a buffet on the second day of Chinese New Year.

"Due to Covid-19 and the new government regulations, I wanted to hold multiple reunion dinners at home with different social groups over a span of time to spread out the crowd."

Madam Fanny Lim (fourth from left) hosting an early Chinese New Year reunion dinner at her home in Queenstown on Friday with (from left) her grandniece Sherwynn Chong, 27; sister Lim Kim Eng, 72; goddaughter Irene Tran, 31; husband Kang Joo Hai, 69; and niece Serene Ng, 51. The family used an app, which contains audio recordings of auspicious phrases, to toss yusheng safely. Diners have been told not to shout the usual phrases while engaging in lohei. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

The Health Ministry has advised firms not to organise gatherings and social activities around Chinese New Year, which starts on Feb 12.

Mr Yew said Peach Garden has seen a 50 per cent jump in the sale of gift sets and hampers this year, as its corporate clients have switched from holding annual Chinese New Year meals with their staff to sending them hampers.

Restaurants said they have been seeing customers streaming in unusually early for the New Year celebrations - since the start of the month.

Mr Morris Kam, a 25-year-old map operation associate at Grab, dined with four of his secondary school and Temasek Polytechnic friends at House of Seafood restaurant in Punggol last Thursday.

He said: "I didn't want to go to a restaurant during the festive season when it's crowded and clogged up. I wanted ample time to celebrate Chinese New Year while taking necessary precautions, so that's why I celebrated early."

A Restaurant Association of Singapore spokesman said customers ought to enter the festive season with caution and heed the limitations placed on visits as well as tossing yusheng.

He added: "We encourage both our food and beverage businesses and customers to work together to ensure that all safe measurement rules are adhered to so that we can continue to enjoy a safe dining experience and peace of mind for all."

Several restaurants said they have implemented time limits to better manage crowds.

For instance, Peach Garden has a 2½-hour dining limit for dinner, while House of Seafood has implemented a 1½-hour limit for dining on Chinese New Year's Eve.

The early reunion dinners and border control measures have also impacted restaurants' operations.

Ms Loke said vegetables from neighbouring countries used to take two hours to reach Si Chuan Dou Hua's restaurants, but now take seven to eight hours due to swab tests and checks imposed on drivers and vehicles at the borders.

The costs of certain Chinese New Year-related ingredients were also 15 per cent to 20 per cent higher compared with previous years, she said, but added that the restaurant will not raise prices.

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