Restaurateurs seek solution to deal with difficult customers

Hakim Hayat

Several restaurateurs in the capital have expressed their disappointment over some of their customers’ reluctance to follow physical distancing and other precautionary measures to stem the tide of the COVID-19 outbreak, and have called on the authorities to come up with a solution to ensure that the public comply with the regulations.

Fadhilla Rahman, a manager of a popular café and restaurant in Kiulap, told the Bulletin that they are facing problems in educating and enforcing the rules on customers, especially those with families.

“Some of them don’t bother scanning their QR codes when entering our premises,” she lamented. “When our restaurant staff instruct them to do so, they simply ignore it, with some getting agitated.”

Since the de-escalation of restrictions being implemented on businesses late last month, Fadhilla said they have been obeying the regulations imposed by the Ministry of Health (MoH), such as limiting the capacity of their restaurant to 30 per cent, taking temperatures of customers at the entrance, providing hand sanitisers, ensuring customers scan their QR codes when entering and exiting the premises, requiring their staff to wear face masks, and rearranging the dining area to ensure physical distancing is observed at all times.

However, she said, while most customers abide by the rules, there are some that ignore the mandate.

“They would rearrange the seats that we have provided, and even sit on the ‘X’ marked on chairs, even when we tell them not to… especially those with families, who would reason that they have come from the same house and have arrived in the same car,” the restaurateur said, adding that “some don’t even have their QR codes set up, and insist that they dine in our restaurant without one”.

She said, “When we try to deny them entry, they will become agitated or ignore us and just let themselves in. Some even stay for hours even when we have made it clear that there is a one-hour limit for customers.”

Fadhilla noted that the problem has become so frequent to the point where the staff get harassed by customers, even after they have been given an explanation.

“It would not be fair if the MoH enforcement officers penalise us for our customers’ reluctance (to abide by the health codes),” she said, adding that she hoped that the authorities can provide restaurateurs with a hotline to lodge complaints on customers who refuse to follow the rules.

She believed a function on the BruHealth app to monitor the duration customers have spent at an establishment will also be useful.

“If the app could time a customer’s stay at the premises with an alert function, maybe it could serve as a reminder to the customers that they have stayed over the time limit,” she said.

Haji Naina bin Ahmad, a fellow restaurateur in the capital, shared Fadhilla’s sentiments.
“If we prevent the customers from coming in, some would get very abusive,” he said. “We don’t want any altercations, so we have no choice but to give in.”

He also urged the authorities to enforce some sort of guideline for the public and set up a platform on which restaurateurs could report difficult customers.

Minister of Health Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham bin Haji Jaafar, in a recent press conference, shared that discussions have been held between MoH officials and the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) on issuing fines to restaurant owners who have been caught in violation of rules and regulations set by the authorities, such as permitting employees to work without face masks, organising buffets and operating beyond the permitted capacity.

Meanwhile, Brunei entered the first phase of the de-escalation plans on May 16 which includes limited operations of driving schools, gyms, fitness centres, sports facilities (indoor and outdoor), golf courses, restaurants, cafes and food courts, as well as stalls and markets.