The easing of dining-in restrictions from 21 June has brought some recovery to restaurants and cafes, but sales are still down compared to when up to 8 people were allowed to dine together before Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) began on 16 May.
Sources whom The Halal Eater spoke to said that sales slumped by up to 80% during Phase 2HA when dining-in was totally restricted. Allowing 1- and 2-pax to dine in has helped to lessen this pain, but restaurants and cafes are still suffering about a 40-60% drop in sales compared to just months before.
European-inspired cafe Comme Me Das, which is situated in an office building, commented that customer traffic since 21 June has been “not too bad, but could be better.” Their lunch service has been affected by the absence of workers who are still mostly working from home. Dinner service is usually for reservations — they rarely receive walk-ins in the evening due to the nature of their location.
Implications of the 2-pax dining-in restriction
With a cap of 2 diners per table, the average value per order at Comme Me Das has also dropped. Bigger groups tend to order appetisers to share, but couples usually get mains and drinks only, said their operations director Raif Azimi.
Halal Italian restaurant Positano Risto also felt the pinch. One of their owners, Muhammad Imran Abdullah, noted that two seats per table is good for fine dining restaurants where people go on romantic dates, but not for social dining restaurants such as theirs where families and friends come to celebrate special occasions. Household members sitting across multiple tables hasn’t been a popular option.
“(Customers) feel that the communication and bonding are somewhat compromised, so we’ve not had that the same effect as last year when the government opened up to tables of 5 immediately after the Circuit Breaker,” added Mr Imran.
Another implication of 2-pax dining and the strict requirements of this regime is having to reduce the number of tables to ensure safe distancing between diners, or risk being fined.
Bakmi eatery Kulon, which has a small space to begin with, had to reduce their seating capacity from 24 pax to 14 pax. One week since dining-in has resumed, customer visits have been “encouraging” but owner Haris Ahmad said that “it’s still too early to see any positive results (in sales)” or to recoup losses.
As for Positano, the team was starting to get comfortable with customers’ response prior to Phase 2HA when the Delta Covid-19 variant suddenly emerged and spoiled what was a “reasonably stable situation in Singapore.” They were caught off-guard.
Not planning dining-in promotions
Yet, Positano doesn’t plan to run dine-in promotions and prefers to work on delivering the best experience to customers.
“We tell our staff to focus on delivering the best quality food in the best possible setting and presentation of the dish, and with the best service which makes guests feel really important. There’s no better promotion than happy and satisfied diners who leave us with wonderful memories and tell their friends and family about us,” shared Mr Imran.
Likewise, Comme Me Das has no plans of running dine-in promotions which may eat away their profits. Instead, their team is focusing on promoting their delivery service and offering bulk order discounts for group orders because that’s where the market currently is.
Kulon too invested in revamping their website during Phase 2HA to allow for pre-orders and self pick-ups. The mother and son duo who run the business chose not to partner with any third-party delivery food services to save on the high commission fees.
Patiently waiting for better days
Speak with any F&B business owner, and one will easily sense their weariness after enduring the abrupt shut down of dining-in for 5 weeks and suffering the huge losses that followed. Many owners have had to pause their long-term plans of expansion and instead, focus on surviving this crippling curveball.
Affirming how tough this phase has been for the F&B industry, Mr Raif ended our conversation with uplifting words for fellow establishments, almost as though to encourage himself too: “Push on, persevere on. We’ll get through better days. I’m certain we’ll make it through this. This is just one of those hurdles that we have to overcome.”