Monday, December 4, 2023
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Slow return of eating out

Izah Azahari

The second wave of the COVID-19 outbreak in Brunei Darussalam has undoubtedly affected many businesses, particularly the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) navigating the challenges imposed by the Sultanate’s COVID-19 control measures.

The food and beverage (F&B) industry was heavily affected as COVID-19 control measures forbade dine-ins and restricted movement, which meant that many stalls, restaurants and operators had to close early during the second wave.

To adapt, businesses offered food ordering and delivery services, though not all operators benefitted from the move.

During the inaugural Bank Islam Brunei Darussalam (BIBD) SME360 series virtual forum recently, some 65 participants comprising F&B industry entrepreneurs and business owners shared their experiences in an impromptu survey.

Around 57 per cent of respondents said that offering take-out services didn’t help offset the lack of dine-in business during the pandemic, even though only 29 per cent said the lack of customers affected their businesses.

Panellists at BIBD’s SME360 virtual forum. PHOTO: IZAH AZAHARI

It was likely that a lot of F&B operators and restaurants hope that the Endemic Phase – with less restrictions and a highly vaccinated population – would reinvigorate the desire to dine-in once again.

They, however, still have to face the challenges of a new normal.

At the forum’s discussion topic ‘Endemic: Impact, Re-Opening and Market Overview’, a panel comprising GoMamam co-founder Hadi Wahab; co-founder of Bake Culture and Gong Cha Brunei Nicky Wong; and social media influencer Thanis Lim; with Curious Mind founder Shaun Hoon as moderator spoke at length on the pandemic’s effects and the industry expectations and experiences of the Endemic Phase.

The panellists said that it would take several months for the F&B industry to recover from the effects of the second COVID-19 wave.

For businesses or enterprises to be able to return stronger, there must be a continued emphasis on the quality of services and products offered to customers, they said.

It is no less important to give priority to the cleanliness and comfort of the premises for employees. Forty five per cent of respondents in the quick survey stated that shortage of staff was a major issue impacting their businesses.

During the Early Endemic Phase, when patrons were allowed to dine-in, the panelists said on average there was only a small number who had chosen to do so. Visitors were still not comfortable to eat and drink on premises, and would more often choose home delivery or the pick-up service.

Some customers would contact restaurants not to make reservations, but to find out how crowded the premises were, ‘as a precautionary measure’ to avoid packed places.

However, patrons are returning slowly to restaurants, with numbers increasing week by week as those who have completed their vaccination schedules return, especially to businesses with a loyal customer base.

It will just take time, the panellists said, for customers to once again be comfortable with the idea of eating out. Even then, patrons will start to consider factors on where to go, such as cleanliness, seating space and ventilation.


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