Restaurants in S'pore prepare to meet Covid-19 dining in ban with delivery menus

Some restaurateurs said that however prepared they were, the dining in ban will hit their bottom line.
Some restaurateurs said that however prepared they were, the dining in ban will hit their bottom line.ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - As Covid-19 cases rose once more in Singapore, restaurants braced themselves for dining in to be taken off the menu. When the blow fell, however, they did not expect it to be so soon - and for so long.

New restrictions announced by a multi-ministry task force on Friday (May 14) included the prohibition of dining in from Sunday till June 13, with only takeaway and delivery allowed.

Restaurants The Straits Times spoke to said that with Covid-19 cases increasing here, they had been expecting the Government to stop dining in.

Ms Nuria Gibert, director of Spanish eatery Restaurant Gaig in Stanley Street, said she had started preparing for takeaway and delivery menus last week.

"But we didn't expect it to happen so fast," she said. "We do not have much time to get ready with our offerings by Monday." The restaurant is closed on Sunday.

At Western restaurant LeVeL33, managing director Martin Bem saw the move coming too.

"Given the increase in cases and number of clusters, we were expecting a response from the Government," he said. "But perhaps not for a whole month, just two weeks or so."

The Marina Bay Financial Centre restaurant is set to roll out its deliveries online. Mr Bem said: "Our weekend roast and the fresh beers were all ready to be delivered."

Mr Brian Stampe, chief operating officer of Commonwealth Concepts, which operates restaurants such as Fat Cow, The Marmalade Pantry and Oriole Coffee + Bar, said the group had been expecting the new measures since the first week of May.

He added: "We were ready to pivot to takeaways and deliveries immediately. These options had remained available since we activated them last year. We also kept sufficient disposable ware."

For many restaurants, clearing the stocks of food in their kitchen was among the first things on their mind and will factor in their delivery menus.

Ms Gibert said: "We have to be very strategic with how we plan our takeaway and delivery offerings based on our resources and aim to cut extra costs. Right now, stock control is the key."

But Mr Bem is more worried about the reservations for special events and other occasions that will be lost.

Some restaurateurs acknowledged that however prepared they were, the dining in ban will hit their bottom line.

Said Mr Bem: "No restaurant in a prime location with a substantial dining area and the necessary staffing can completely pivot its business to delivery. It helps to cover only part of the costs and keep staff busy to an extent.

"With delivery companies charging around 30 per cent commissions, it is difficult to make a profit."

A spokesman for Italian restaurant Buona Terra in Scotts Road concurred. "No matter how well prepared one is, there is definitely a bit of a challenge coping with the changes in every aspect of restaurant operations."

Commonwealth Concept's Mr Stampe, however, said the no dining in rule will affect restaurants in the group differently.

He pointed out that during last year's circuit breaker, some of the casual restaurants such as Italian eatery PastaMania performed well, especially as they are located in residential enclaves.

Destination restaurants such as Fat Cow in Orchard Boulevard were also popular with customers who wanted something more premium for special celebrations at home.

But its eateries in the Central Business District, such as Japanese restaurant Kinki in Collyer Quay, had poor demand for deliveries because people were working from home.

The Government will be increasing support for food and beverage businesses under the Jobs Support Scheme, subsidising 50 per cent of the first $4,600 of gross monthly wages paid to local employees during this period. This is up from 10 per cent previously.

Mr Bem said the increased support was a great relief. But he added: "The second big fixed cost is the rent and we now need to see if we will get direct or indirect support like the property tax rebate previously.

"If we get the support we were lucky to receive last year, we expect our situation to be maybe marginally better this time. Otherwise, it could be worse."