Walking on a tightrope

Anjali Raguraman

SINGAPORE (THE STRAITS TIMES/ANN) – Two weeks into the resumption of dine-in services, some food and beverage businesses are finding it tough to walk the tightrope of observing safe management practices while keeping their customers happy.

At least three establishments have been punished for breaches. British Indian Curry Hut in Holland Village was ordered to close on June 19 for 10 days after large crowds were seen gathering outside the restaurant.

F&B owners told The Straits Times they are aware of the rules – which include limits on group sizes and no mingling between tables – but that enforcing them requires cooperation from customers as well.

As a result of the clampdowns, some businesses say they have moved their cut-off time for last orders earlier to get customers out the door on time.

Angeles Herrero, 54, founder of Middle Eastern restaurant Kazbar in Church Street, said, “The last call is 9.45pm. We bring the bills to all the tables at 10pm and we will clear all the tables by 10.15pm.

“Everybody wants to celebrate by dining out, but as much as we play our part, we also need the customers to do so.”

Herrero, whose restaurant has been around for 18 years, added, “We also need the authorities to understand that while we can control what happens inside the outlet, once the customers are out on the street, we can’t be expected to control them.”

She was referring to what happened at British Indian Curry Hut. Its general manager told ST that crowds had gathered to see fights that had broken out in front of his and other restaurants in the vicinity. He said they were mistaken for his customers, which made it seem like the eatery flouted social distancing measures.

Herrero noted that most of her customers have been understanding and obeyed the rules, though she has also come across some who were non-compliant.

“At the end of the day, I need to protect my business and my staff’s jobs,” she said.
Alvin Gho, 38, co-owner of a restaurant in Carpenter Street, added, “When you’re in recovery mode after being closed for over two months, trying to be hospitable and law-abiding at the same time is very tough.”

But with the livelihoods of 10 employees at stake, he has no choice but to observe the law strictly.

The restaurant encourages reservations and has staggered seating times on Fridays and Saturdays.

The first seating is from the opening time (4pm on Fridays, 1pm on Saturdays) to 7.45pm, and the second is from 8pm to 10.30pm. Diners at the second seating cannot stay for more than two and a half hours.

And to encourage people to come earlier, the restaurant now opens earlier – at 4pm on weekdays and 1pm on Saturdays – instead of at 5.30pm daily previously. It is closed on Sundays.

Gho also urges customers to show up for their reservations and not to cancel at the last minute – issues they have faced in the past two weeks.

“Cancelling is fine; but inform the restaurant early, instead of at 8pm. As for no-shows, it’s a matter of respect and courtesy,” he said.