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‘Selfish’ customers breaking safe distancing rules, endangering staff livelihoods: F&B operators

SINGAPORE — One cafe bar at Holland Village was asked for a reservation for 30 people, while another along Robertson Quay had to deal with two groups of five customers who were constantly mingling with one another.

Vatos Cantina in Holland Village is one a number of food and beverage outlets that reported that customers are breaching safe distancing rules.

Vatos Cantina in Holland Village is one a number of food and beverage outlets that reported that customers are breaching safe distancing rules.

  • Several F&B operators said groups of more than five customers often arrive and try to mingle with one another
  • Some customers are cooperative when told to keep a safe distance, while others are either unaware of the rules or do not care
  • These breaches could mean the F&B business is closed by the authorities
  • Operators said customers must understand that this could put the livelihoods of their staff on the line


SINGAPORE — One cafe bar at Holland Village was asked for a reservation for 30 people, while another along Robertson Quay had to deal with two groups of five customers who were constantly mingling with one another.

Over in the Arab Street precinct, a restaurant manager was even told to “close one eye” and allow a family of six to sit together.

If it were not for the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, none of these episodes would have raised any eyebrows.

However, they breach safe distancing measures imposed to curb the spread of Covid-19 and not only increase the chances of a new cluster forming, but also put businesses at risk of being asked to suspend their operations by the authorities.

Many food and beverage (F&B) operators in these three popular dining spots told TODAY on Sunday (Aug 16) that they can ill afford such a business closure, given the poor state of the economy and the livelihoods of their staff.

They said that dealing with customers who are either unaware of the safe distancing requirements set by the Government, or who simply do not care, is a common occurrence.

These troublesome customers are an even mix of locals and expatriates, they added.

On Saturday, the owner of the restaurants Vatos Urban Tacos at South Beach and Vatos Cantina at Holland Village aired his concerns about uncooperative customers in a Facebook post that has since gone viral.

In his post, Mr Sid Kim described how two tables of five customers at Vatos Urban Tacos on Friday ignored repeated requests by his staff to stop intermingling between the two tables.

The incident reached the point where a social distancing officer came by and warned that he would fine and shut down the restaurant if this breach of the rules continued.

A similar situation played out at Vatos Cantina on Saturday, though this time the police were involved.

The manager of Vatos Cantina told TODAY on Sunday that three men had arrived for drinks at around 2.30pm, and were joined by their wives and friends several hours later. In all, there were about seven or eight people involved, recalled Ms Henrietta Maneesha Sandhu.

The 34-year-old said that when the wives walked over to talk to their husbands, she reminded them about four times about the safe distancing rules, but they paid her only lip service.

A passerby snapped a photo and told Ms Sandhu to either call the police or she would call them herself. Ms Sandhu said she would do it, but by the time the police arrived, the group had already left.

“It’s really the weekends that kill you,” said Ms Sandhu, who explained that on Fridays and Saturdays most F&B operators would face similar challenges of getting customers to comply with safe distancing rules.

“Following the rules, I guess, is a new thing for people around the world, but you need to follow it,” she said.

Failing to do so could put the livelihoods of the staff at risk if the outlet gets shut down, added Ms Sandhu.

“The customer needs to think of us, instead of just for themselves,” she said. “We’re here to serve you, so do your job in helping us as well. It is a team effort.”

Mr Kenny Goh, the supervisor of the nearby Wala Wala cafe bar, said he had to turn down a request to accommodate a group of 30 customers on one occasion, as it would not have been possible to ensure that they would not intermingle.

The 39-year-old added that it can be hard to tell whether different groups know each other since customers do not necessarily mention this.

Several times, the staff learnt that groups knew each other only after they had settled in. For example, a table of five ordered a tower of beer and some food, only to have individuals from another table walking over to help themselves, he added.

In such instances, he said they have to warn the customers that they cannot do that and they would have to order their own drinks and food.

If they still insist on flouting the rules, Mr Goh said they will serve the customers their bill and ask them to leave the restaurant.

“A lot of customers are not happy (when we tell them), but there is really no choice,” he said. “You want to have that one business (transaction) and then risk the rest of your business?”


Mr Sabeesh, the outlet manager of the Bar Bar Black Sheep coffeeshop bar at Robertson Quay, said that customers need to understand that the rules were not set by the F&B operators but by the authorities.

The 38-year-old recounted an incident where two tables of five customers were constantly switching seats between tables and got upset when they were told to stop — they argued that they were keeping within the group size limit, but forgot that they were intermingling.

Often, he said, these customers are not even fully aware of the exact rules until he directs them to read them on the Ministry of Health’s website, which is when they stop arguing with him.

“Come on lah. (Safe distancing) is everywhere, it's not only in Singapore so they should understand the situation,” he said. “Maybe not everybody has the state of mind to understand that this pandemic is not going anywhere.”

Other customers just want to try their luck, said Mr Maja Iskandaria. The 36-year-old operations manager of the Sanobar Lebanese restaurant along Baghdad Street said they often get families of six walking into the restaurant.

While some have no qualms sitting separately, he said others get agitated and complain that it ruins their family dinner and question why he cannot look the other way instead of “making a big fuss” over one more person.

“These people are selfish. They don’t understand how businesses or restaurants are run,” he said. “Anything that happens, the restaurant will get the blame first. The safe distancing officers will question the restaurant, and not the patrons, because we are the ones who allow it.”

This is why  restaurant operators have to be very strict in enforcing the rules, said Mr Maja who admitted that his restaurant has been given a few warnings by safe distancing officers in the past.

“Most of the time, once you educate the customer on what are the rules and regulations imposed by the Government, they're more willing to accept (them),” he said, though they will still grumble about it throughout the evening.


For Mr Sim Sze Wei, the 37-year-old bar manager of Ah Sam Cold Drink Stall along Haji Lane, it is important to set the ground rules for the customers when they first arrive.

He said this makes it easier for his staff to enforce the rules if they are flouted. So far, this has worked for Mr Sim’s team and they have yet to have any customers giving them grief.

If all else fails, Mr Sim said they will play the “sympathy card”.

“We tell them, ‘We really want to stay open. You love our place right? You want to come back again?’ And that helps. That really helps,” he said.

Related topics

Covid-19 coronavirus F&B safe distancing

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