Restaurants, bars seek additional aid, more collaborative approach

A few groups representing food and beverage (F&B) establishments, some with members on the brink of closure, are calling on the Government to provide additional relief.

They are hoping for support for foreigners employed in the industry, and a seat at the table in future decision-making that impacts the beleaguered sector.

In separate open letters to Finance Minister Lawrence Wong and Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong sent on Thursday and yesterday, three coalitions - #savefnbsg, the Singapore Cocktail Bar Association (SCBA) and the Singapore craft beer industry - requested mandated rental relief where rebates are passed directly to tenants, and the reopening of dining in for fully vaccinated individuals, among other appeals.

The ministers co-chair the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19.

The appeals come as the Ministry of Finance yesterday announced a $1.1 billion Covid-19 relief package that includes more rental relief and enhanced wage subsidies under the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS) for firms and workers.

JSS support has increased to 60 per cent for sectors including F&B, where tightened measures under phase two (heightened alert) require them to suspend dining in from Thursday until Aug 18.

#savefnbsg, which represents more than 500 restaurants, including Michelin-starred venues, is asking for JSS measures to be extended to foreign workers.

It is also appealing for a waiver on foreign worker levies and work permit-related fees.

The collective said: "These hard-working, law-abiding and tax-paying individuals have contributed much to Singapore's dining scene and economy, yet there is no support for them, treated as if they don't exist in the local workforce."

The SCBA is urging the Government to consider boosting JSS to 75 per cent - the same as that during the circuit breaker last year - for businesses that have already weathered three phases of no-dine-in rules.

But as businesses look ahead to current curbs lifting on Aug 19, #savefnbsg is also hoping for a more collaborative approach, where the F&B sector is engaged for future decisions.

"Sudden closures without sufficient time to plan and organise resources have repeatedly impacted the industry, causing an unnecessary burden," its letter said.

Collaboration is also something the SCBA is seeking.

In its letter, the SCBA, which has more than 60 members, said that "any further tightening of rules in the F&B industry may be counterproductive, as it can prompt our fatigued people to seek ways around the regulations and work against our goal of keeping Singapore safe".

Both #savefnbsg and the SCBA are calling for rules to be eased to allow fully vaccinated people to dine in. Half of Singapore's population have been fully vaccinated as at July 19.

Among other requests are zero-interest working capital loans or the deferment of principal bridging loan repayments to June next year, and allowing for background music to be played at venues when they reopen.

In addition, the SCBA is asking for the extension of alcohol sale hours to midnight. The current cut-off for liquor sales and consumption is 10.30pm.

The craft beer industry has also petitioned the ministries, asking for equal treatment with the rest of the F&B industry.

The letter, representing 16 breweries, 13 distributors and 32 retailers, noted that craft beer distributors and breweries are ineligible for various schemes like rental subsidies and enhanced JSS support. Only some have been able to tap relief schemes, upon appealing to the authorities.

"The same fixed costs of labour and rent affect us as well, and it is galling to have to constantly appeal to Iras (Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore) to be treated the same as food services for subsidies that will tide us through a lockdown that affects an entire F&B ecosystem," the letter said.

Anjali Raguraman

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 24, 2021, with the headline Restaurants, bars seek additional aid, more collaborative approach. Subscribe