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5-person limit for diners: Business still sluggish at hawker centres in CBD despite Covid-19 rule change

SINGAPORE — Some hawkers at three hawker centres in the Central Business District (CBD) said that business is just as bad as before or even worse, now that Covid-19 rules have been eased for up to five people to dine together at eateries from Monday (July 12).

A snapshot of patrons at the relatively quiet Lau Pa Sat food centre at lunchtime on July 12, 2021.

A snapshot of patrons at the relatively quiet Lau Pa Sat food centre at lunchtime on July 12, 2021.

  • Hawkers at three food centres in the CBD said with restrictions eased, business was just as bad as before or worse
  • This is expected to continue as long as work-from-home remains the default ruling, they said
  • One hawker even lamented that he might consider closing for good if people work from home indefinitely
  • Patrons were observed to have kept up the practice of returning trays after meals, a few cleaners said

 

SINGAPORE — Some hawkers at three hawker centres in the Central Business District (CBD) said that business is just as bad as before or even worse, now that Covid-19 rules have been eased for up to five people to dine together at eateries from Monday (July 12).

Of the seven hawkers who spoke to TODAY at Lau Pa Sat in Raffles Quay, Amoy Street Food Centre and Maxwell Food Centre near Chinatown, only one reported an improvement in business on Monday. 

All the hawkers interviewed said that business will likely remain affected as long as work-from-home remains the default ruling, because they are heavily dependent on the office crowd.

The Government’s Covid-19 task force increased the limit for people who eat out together at food centres and food-and-beverage establishments from two to five starting Monday. The two-person limit had been in place since June 21. No one was allowed to dine out from May 16 to June 20 when eating places could only do takeaways or deliveries, in order to curb the rising cases of infections in the community.

The scene at one section of Lau Pa Sat during lunchtime on July 12, 2021. Photo: Benjamin Sim/TODAY

When TODAY visited Lau Pa Sat at around 1.15pm on Monday, there were plenty of empty tables and not many patrons, who were mostly eating alone or in pairs. There were only a handful of diners who were in groups larger than two.

It was just as quiet at Amoy Street Food Centre at around 3pm, with many of the stalls already closed by then. Diners were also mostly eating alone or in pairs.

At Maxwell Food Centre, there were also not many patrons at around 5pm, with plenty of empty tables despite many of the stalls being open.

Outside of the CBD, when TODAY visited a coffee shop at Block 59 Marine Terrace at around 1pm, most diners were in pairs, with the exception of two tables. One was a group of three residents who had gathered to chat over coffee, while the other was a group of four workers from the nearby MRT construction site for Thomson-East Coast Line.

At around 1pm at Our Tampines Hub Hawker Centre, TODAY similarly observed that many diners were either alone or in pairs, and the diners in larger groups were mostly office workers. The usual lunchtime crowd was present and most available tables were occupied.

A view of one section of a food court at Our Tampines Hub mall on July 12, 2021. Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY

SLUGGISH BUSINESS

Ms Elma Lau, the owner of Swan City Noodle House, a hawker stall in Amoy Street Food Centre, said that business was worse than last Monday.  

She made S$300 on average each day last week when the limit was still two persons. It was just S$207 by the time she closed her stall at around 3.30pm.

“We are dependent on the office crowd, so there’s not been much improvement (since last week),” the 27-year-old said in Mandarin.

Ms Melanni Quiambao, the owner of a Filipino cuisine stall at Lau Pa Sat, said that business has been the same as last week.

“In this area, it will be the same because people now work from home. We cater mostly to the office crowd, so if work-from-home is the default, then there is no difference,” the 46-year-old said.

Ms Quiambao said that business at her stall has dropped 70 per cent compared to before the heightened alert period that started in mid-May, although it increased by about 10 per cent since dining-in for two persons was allowed on June 21.

Mr Arif Khan, 22, who was helping out at his cousin's stall AS Indian Classic Cuisine in Lau Pa Sat, said that business on Monday has been “very bad”, noting that it was better when it was restricted to only two persons. He similarly attributed the slow business to the lack of an office crowd due to people working from home.

Mr Zilch Ng, 35, who owns Lagoon In A Bowl, a hawker stall at Amoy Street Food Centre, said that business on Monday has been worse than the past two weeks.

“The five-person limit helps restaurants more, but for hawkers in the CBD, it's still as bad. (Things) won't change as long as work-from-home is the default,” he said.

Mr Ng also said that business has been “progressively dropping”, adding that there was a 50 per cent drop in sales on Monday compared with last Monday.

Mr Vincent Wong, 32, owner of Spice & Rice at Amoy Street Food Centre, does not open the stall on Mondays but he said: “We used to earn about S$450 a day before the heightened alert, but now we are earning about S$250 a day. During the dining-in ban, it was only about S$150 a day.

“People working from home has been very difficult for hawkers, and the sentiment in the market is that if this goes on indefinitely, many of us, myself included, might consider closing for good.”

He added that he does not foresee his sales improving as long as work-from-home remains the default.

Maxwell Food Centre at 6.30pm on July 12, 2021. Photo: Benjamin Sim/TODAY

Mr Liakath Ali, 60, who was working at SMH Hot & Cold Drinks in Maxwell Food Centre, similarly said that business on Monday has been the same as last week and he observed that the crowd has not returned.

“We rely on the office crowd, so business will be slow as long as the office crowd doesn't return,” he said.

However, one hawker stall seemed to be faring better than the rest.

Mr Yatin, a 25-year-old worker at Mint@31 Vegetarian Indian Restaurant in Lau Pa Sat, said that business at the stall on Monday has been “considered good, better than last week”. However, he was unable to provide specific figures on sales.

DINERS’ SENTIMENTS

Mr Nixon Lim, 25, a risk analyst who eats at Lau Pa Sat about three times a week, told TODAY that he did not see a difference in the number of patrons there and said that it could be because it was just the first day of the change in ruling.

Mr Buyukturk Ali Bora, 40, a retailer who was at Lau Pa Sat at around 2.30pm, noted that human traffic at the hawker centre was lower than usual.

“It could be because today is a day of transition (from the limit of two persons to five persons).”

RETURNING TRAYS

A few cleaners at the food centres told TODAY that the tray-return rate has been encouraging and they have noticed more diners returning their trays after eating.

From now until Aug 31, patrons at hawker centres have to clear litter on their tables and return their dirty trays and crockery after a meal, with volunteers and government agency workers deployed at random sites to remind them.

During this advisory period, the authorities will not take enforcement action but from Sept 1, people who do not do so will risk being warned or fined.

A cleaning supervisor at Lau Pa Sat who is in her 50s and who declined to be named said in Mandarin: “There’s been more people (doing that) compared to three weeks ago, when fewer people were aware about it.”

She noted that out of 10 diners, about six or seven will return their trays.

A cleaning supervisor at Maxwell Food Centre, who wanted to be known only as Nelson, saw an increase in the number of diners returning their trays as well.

“There has been about 20 per cent more people returning their trays compared to before June 21,” the 76-year-old said.

Related topics

hawker centre F&B CBD Covid-19 coronavirus dining

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