When the government tightened restrictions last month and banned dining-in as part of Phase 2 (Heightened Alert), F&B establishments braced themselves for another slump in sales as they sombrely cordoned off their seating areas.
Community cases were on the rise, clusters were forming in malls and food courts, and Singaporeans began defaulting back to working from home. It was going to be like last year’s circuit breaker all over again.
But how did Phase 2HA, which started on 16 May, affect online F&B businesses?
Some of the online F&B business owners The Halal Eater spoke to said that business remained the same, while some like HaHaHotpot saw an increase in orders.
Brisk sales but space constraints still an issue
Call it luck or good fortune, the Sichuan hotpot delivery business which started just one week before Ramadan in April, saw sales rising even as Singapore tightened restrictions under Phase 2HA.
At least half of their daily orders seemed destined for May and June birthday celebrants, likely a result of families no longer being able to head out for a special meal together, said owner Roesman Hady, 23.
By their second month, HahaHotpot’s rapid growth forced them to spontaneously seek out a central kitchen to enable them to scale up their operations.
Online home-based businesses may have the advantage of not having to worry about rental costs or service staff wages, but Shahid Ashraf, the 29-year-old owner of bakery Choux by SA (@chouxbysa) pointed out that they also face limits on their production volume. “We don’t have the space or the industrial equipment to churn out more orders as demand grows,” he added.
Another home-based business, Jakarta Street Food.SG (@jakartastreetfood.sg) which offers home cooked Indonesian food, agreed. Due to their limited quota, they didn’t necessarily see an increase in sales during Phase 2HA although they observed that their pre-orders sold out faster compared to before.
“(During Phase 2HA) there’s a tendency for customers to order more – for themselves, for their families and their friends. Customers were willing to spend to deliver meals to more than 1 address, and would at times request for the delivery to be a surprise,” said owner Thyra Yusuf, 19.
“This is not as commonly seen when dining out was allowed,” she added.
The future of eating out
With the much-anticipated calibrated lifting of the dining-in ban from today (June 21), F&B business owners are split on their predictions. Some guess that restaurants and cafes will see a surge in diners as people crave being able to socialise with family and friends again.
Others think that Singaporeans may remain cautious because they’re afraid of potential clusters, and will continue choosing home cooked meals, food deliveries and takeaways as much as possible.
For online F&B businesses, Phase 2HA has shown that consumers are looking for gift-worthy food packages to help them nurture their relationships and friendships during a time of social distancing.
Beyond delicious food, consumers also value special dining experiences to make their celebratory meals at home more memorable.
Hopefully this will be the last of dining-in bans that we’ll see in Singapore. But for F&B business owners, the above behavioural trends may perhaps offer some food for thought on how to soften the blow.
Top images by Choux by SA