Restaurateurs, hawkers relieved that dining in can resume; bookings already coming in

LeVeL33 was one of the restaurants which started receiving calls for reservations immediately after the announcement that dining in would resume.
LeVeL33 was one of the restaurants which started receiving calls for reservations immediately after the announcement that dining in would resume.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - Restaurateurs and hawkers heaved a collective sigh of relief on Friday (Aug 6) when the announcement was made that dining in would resume next Tuesday (Aug 10).

This was ahead of Aug 18 - the date set earlier as the end of the Covid-19 phase two (heightened alert).

From next Tuesday, groups of up to five people who are fully vaccinated, have recovered from or tested negative for Covid-19 can dine together in eateries, while two people regardless of vaccination status can eat together at hawker centres and coffee shops.

Some restaurants started receiving calls for reservations immediately after the announcement.

Among them was modern Western restaurant LeVeL33 at the Marina Bay Financial Centre. Founding managing director Martin Bem said bookings for next Tuesday began coming in less than an hour after the news broke. He called the return of dining in a relief.

"Most restaurants already had their backs to the wall in terms of cash flow. So we all needed sales," he said.

Head chef Alex Phan of Avenue 87, a modern Asian restaurant in Amoy Street, was happily surprised that five people will be able to dine in. He said: "We were prepared to go back into two-pax dine in. But this is even better."

Restaurateur Loh Lik Peng, who owns the Unlisted Collection of eateries that include Basque Kitchen by Aitor, Meatsmith and Majestic Restaurant, said he was "very happy and grateful that we are allowed to open". He estimated that having five people dine in would help the restaurants' revenue bounce back to 75 per cent of pre-Covid-19 times.

"And once eight persons are allowed, we can be back at 85 to 90 per cent. It helps Chinese and Asian restaurants more," he added.

Others, like chef Remy Lefebvre, a partner of Casa Restaurant by Remy Lefebvre in Chijmes, remain a little sceptical after being hit by different rules on dining in over the past two months.

He said: "This is very good news for everyone, both diners and restaurants, but I am not sure how long this will last. I remain conservative because of our recent experience of having to manage the opening and closing of dine-in in a short span of time."

What is now top on restaurateurs' minds is getting ready to open up, including ordering enough supplies.

Mr Guillaume Pichoir, chief executive officer of the Da Paolo Group of Italian eateries, said getting some ingredients at such short notice would be a challenge, especially over the National Day long weekend. He would also be busy "reactivating part-time and contract staff, rearranging the seating layout, reprinting posters reflecting the latest requirements and briefing the front-line staff on the changes".

Chef Lefebvre said he started placing orders on Friday, once he heard the news, as most of his ingredients are imported. But he does not expect he will receive them in time for his restaurant's reopening next Wednesday. It closes on Mondays and Tuesdays.

"So we will likely have to adapt. We believe our customers will understand that we need a little bit of time to adjust," he said.

Mr Rohit Roopchand, co-founder of The Dandy Collection, which includes Neon Pigeon and Firangi Superstar, said his team's previous experience in switching from takeaway and delivery to dining in again would come in useful. But he added: "We remain puzzled why restrictions like no music and no alcohol by 10.30pm are still in place."

Hawkers are happy that they can open for dining in too.

Haji Mohammad Shaikallauddin, who owns the Allauddin's Briyani - Briyani Specialist hawker stalls - in places like Tekka Centre - saw revenue drop by 30 per cent with just takeaway and delivery.

He did not find it unfair that only two people, regardless of vaccinated status, are allowed to dine in at hawker centres and not five fully vaccinated people like at other eateries.

He said: "Hawker centres are much harder to police. Especially differentiating between vaccinated and unvaccinated would be hard for the safe-entry person to track. Sure, I hope the limit will be moved to five people, but I think it has to be gradual."

Two people regardless of vaccination status can eat together at hawker centres and coffee shops. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Madam Ng Sioew Teen, who owns Leng Huat Fishball Noodle in Taman Jurong Hawker Centre, was okay with the different rules too. "It's more about economic viability for restaurants, whose business will be affected if they can't have more diners. For hawker stalls, we are less affected by having fewer diners."

Jeremiah, a 19-year-old student who is fully vaccinated and wanted to be known by his first name, said he was looking forward to enjoying meals in restaurants with his family and friends again.

He said: "I am glad the Government has eased restrictions for vaccinated citizens. It definitely provides an incentive for those who have not been vaccinated to get their jab soon."

  • Additional reporting by Vianne Chia and Kamaldeen Batcha