We speak to restaurateurs on how the Covid-19 crisis has changed the local dining scene as we know it...
First, it was the closure of bars and entertainment venues. Then came the circuit breaker, which led to stricter social distancing measures, resulting in restaurants scrambling to make the switch to takeaway and delivery services. Hey, even the mighty golden arches was brought to its knees (yes, McD’s has shut its doors). While we’re definitely feeling the constraints of being cooped up at home, it’s safe to say that local businesses are truly bearing the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic.
To learn the extent of the impact, we spoke to movers and shakers in the local F&B scene. Read on to find out how they’re coping during these trying times and what we, as consumers, can do to keep our favourite restaurants and bars afloat.
The biggest hurdles faced
Even before the circuit breaker, there was already a sharp decline in customer footfall once the coronavirus infected Singapore. For microbrewery Level33, the effects of Covid-19 started in mid-March with a 50% average drop in sales. Pair that with travel advisories from ASEAN nations, WFH initiatives and people avoiding the Marina Bay and CBD areas, and sales eventually took a bigger hit, decreasing by 85%.
Owner of the newly opened Lumo, Alex Chok also expressed his concerns amidst the pandemic. “The initial response was great, but since the government announced the closure of bars and entertainment outlets, our sales have gone down significantly due to the declining footfall in the area. The Boat Quay area, Carpenter Street and HongKong Street used to be bustling, cars were queuing to park, but now, no one is out and about. You can literally hear a pin drop.”
With sales taking a massive dip, restaurants have been struggling with their pricey rent. Just last month, restaurateur Daniel Ong took to Instagram to express his woes on the losses he made as a tenant.
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Thank you. 🌈 Had a small rant in stories about the situation on ground on the singapore FnB scene in SG. 🥺🥺 I received hundreds of replies. 🌈🌈Solidarity, words of encouragement, solutions, some with just standing shoulder to shoulder with me. With all my heart. ❤️ Thank you. Truth is, being a small business owner is so damn tough. Through all the ups and downs, the losses, the tough work. The daily challenges. The never ending meetings. And more. It never ends. But through this covid episode, my heart goes out most to my teams… they believed in me. They count on me. And I cannot help but feel like I’ve let everyone down. 😵 I’m writing this plea as a small operator of 3 restaurants to landlords in singapore. And am representing hundreds and hundreds of small businesses in echoing the need for your support. We need your help now.. If not now… then never. Coz we WILL cease to exsist. Like @willcookwilleat said…” You are a garden, and when we bloom… your garden looks good… and what is a garden without flowers?” We are dying here. Ina business of single digit profits. Having your top line decline by 70-80% only means there’s no way we can sustain this. No matter how deep your pockets. Over the years, you’ve made hundreds of millions for your organization and shareholders. It’s time to support the very people who fill your malls and properties. Waive rents for 2-3 months. Give us a fighting chance. As at right now, we are not going to make it. If you do not do anything meaningful, defaults will happen, no one will open anything in this climate, and your properties will remain empty till the end of year or till when a cure is found. It’s a lose lose situation. Or you can dip into your deep reserves to help tenants this year… The retail Industry may not recover if too many players go bust during this period and it affects your long term profitability. You are protecting profit, we are just trying to survive and help our fellow singaporeans and livelihood and Jobs. Do the right thing. Follow the example of our countries leaders and help us all in our time of need.
Typically crowded dining establishments in the F&B fray such as PS.Cafe and SPRMRKT weren’t spared either.
“Business at all locations has been extremely slow with a significant dip of up to 90% on some days,” said Sue-Shan Quek, managing partner of The Supermarket Company, which owns SPRMRKT.
Edward Lee, Business Director of PS.Gourmet Pte Ltd, mentioned that the Paragon, Raffles City, One Fullerton and Ann Siang Hill outlets of PS.Cafe remain closed till further notice. “We have been in constant discussions with all our landlords as rental is one of our largest financial commitments. Many have been very proactive and have gone above and beyond the government rebates provided. It is an ongoing discussion and most landlords appreciate and understand that we are long-term partners,” he explained.
So what are the next steps for restaurants and bars in Singapore? Almost all of them have entered the delivery game in the hopes of mitigating the effects of the circuit breaker. But will that be enough?
The food delivery debate
There are three food delivery services dominating the market – Foodpanda, Deliveroo and GrabFood. Because of them, ordering in (and showing love to) our favourite joints has never been easier… right? It’s not that clear cut, though.
Recent online buzz surrounding the controversy of food delivery apps talks about these companies receiving the lion’s share of the profits. In a lengthy Facebook post, Colin Chen, owner of The Refinery, mentioned how the large commission rates of 30% to 35% from food delivery apps are hurting the restaurants. TL;DR: A helpful netizen named Desmond Chua created a useful infographic based on Colin’s post. It illustrates, despite the Food Delivery Booster Package by the government, the costs and losses incurred by merchants.
Another citizen, Ser En Low, created an online petition to urge food delivery companies to disclose their fee structure after noticing a hike in delivery charges during the circuit breaker. The petition has already garnered over 400 signatures at the time of writing.
However, according to a blog piece by GrabFood, the majority of the commission apparently goes to delivery partners and Grab only keeps 5% of it. And just this week, Deliveroo announced that its top rider in March earned a whopping $7,095 that month (although other riders expressed a healthy amount of skepticism over the report). So who wins – the delivery platforms, the restaurants or the riders?
It’s really looking like a sticky conundrum, ain’t it? Not all is doom and gloom, though. At the end of the day, we shouldn’t lose sight of what really matters. And that is to save the local F&B scene and ensure it’s thriving well after the Covid-19 crisis is over.
Yes, there’s always a silver lining to any situation. Even in these confusing times, people are rallying together (online, of course) to boost the local F&B scene. Started by Loh Lik Peng of Unlisted Collection and Beppe De Vito of ilLido Group, #Savefnbsg is more than just a trending hashtag. It’s an online community for restaurants and customers alike. And it calls for consumers to order directly from eateries.
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The #savefnbsg ground up movement is a coalition of over 500 restaurants ranging from independent restaurant operations to groups, banded together to support each other in this COVID-19 crisis as Singapore’s F&B industry hits rock bottom like never before. It started when Peng Loh of Unlisted Collection and Beppe De Vito of ilLido Group invited other restaurateurs to come together and share info and show support during these trying times. In just over a week, the community has grown organically to represent over 500 restaurants and is still growing.
We’ve also seen multiple other ground-up initiatives established to combat the commission fees posed by delivery platforms. There’s Where Got Food, a free online directory of islandwide deliveries in Singapore; Kopi-19, a platform that lists hawkers and small F&B businesses; and Singapore Restaurant Rescue, a private Facebook group where restaurants can promote their in-house delivery services.
The Dandy Collection, which houses brands such as Neon Pigeon and Fat Prince, has launched a new initiative called The Dine In Movement as well. “[It] is a platform that brings together a curated list of F&B operators offering delivery and takeaway together on one website. This allows customers to find something that fits their taste as well as explore new venues,” says co-founder Rohit Roopchand.
So… what can you do?
Now that you’ve heard the struggles of restaurateurs and discovered alternative delivery options, the rest is up to you. We’ve also collated a list of ways you can lend a hand to local businesses. Plus, our newly launched #StayHome Noticeboard provides free shout-outs for local businesses and services in the name of community spirit. Browse through the listings to find ways you can contribute – or post a free ad of your own.
Let’s #supportlocal together!