8 diners at a table: Some eateries see influx of bookings, requests to amend group sizes ahead of Covid-19 rule change
SINGAPORE — Since the long-awaited news came on Monday (Dec 14) that groups of up to eight people will be allowed to sit together when dining out from Dec 28, Keng Eng Kee seafood restaurant on Bukit Merah Lane has been getting calls from customers to book tables for the maximum number of diners.
- Restaurants are seeing a steady stream of bookings for eight persons a table since Dec 14
- Some have received requests to change table reservations to accommodate more people
- Online booking site Chope saw a surge in bookings following Monday’s announcement
- There is a more muted response for smaller and niche venues
- The relaxed safe distancing rules for Covid-19 have not affected their operations much, they said
SINGAPORE — Since the long-awaited news came on Monday (Dec 14) that groups of up to eight people will be allowed to sit together when dining out from Dec 28, Keng Eng Kee Seafood restaurant on Bukit Merah Lane has been getting calls from customers to book tables for the maximum number of diners.
It has received close to 12 reservations by about 4.40pm, about 24 hours since news broke that the Government is easing a Covid-19 regulation that prohibited more than five people from sitting together at eateries.
The rule came into force in mid-June during the second phase of Singapore resuming many of its economic activities, and families that had more than five members not living in the same household could not dine out, for example.
On Monday, when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that Singapore will move into the third phase of reopening its economy, he also said that the five-person limit was raised to eight persons for dining out and visiting homes.
Keng Eng Kee Seafood’s co-owner Paul Liew said that not just for December, but people are already making enquiries over the phone and online asking about the eatery’s dine-in and delivery plans for the coming Chinese New Year festivities in February given the relaxed rules. There are about 20 to 30 such queries so far.
Elsewhere, other big and small eateries contacted by TODAY on Tuesday are steadily receiving requests to reserve tables for eight diners. Some of these dining places have also received requests from customers to change their bookings and increase their group sizes from five to eight.
Restaurant booking site Chope has similarly seen a burst of online activity following Monday’s announcement.
Its Singapore general manager Jean Wee told TODAY that the site recorded a 28 per cent increase in reservations made and a 33 per cent rise in the number of seats reserved on Monday, compared with Sunday.
These increases were mostly for groups of up to five, Ms Wee said, because Chope is still working with restaurants to raise their booking capacity limits on the mobile application when they are ready.
Ms Wee added that Chope's users have made 71 per cent more reservations so far in December, compared with the same period last year. “Given the current trend and this recent announcement, it is likely that the rest of December’s reservations will continue or even surpass that trajectory.”
However, there are other food-and-beverage (F&B) establishments that have seen a muted response given that their spaces can accommodate only smaller groups in order to still adhere to safe distancing rules.
To cope with the greater number of customers, Mr Liew of Keng Eng Kee Seafood said that he is looking into increasing his manpower strength by 10 per cent, especially to help ensure that patrons follow the safe distancing rules.
Restaurants under the Creative Eateries group — such as Bangkok Jam, Eat At Taipei and Suki-ya — have received a handful of reservations for larger groups since the announcement.
Mrs Bernadette Giam, the group’s director of corporate affairs and human resources, said that several customers, most of whom have more than five family members, have been asking whether the restaurants will be able to take in larger group sizes.
Right now, households with more than five family members can make bookings but must be seated at separate tables at least 1m apart, with no more than five people at each table. This arrangement is not allowed for groups where more than five family members are not living in the same household.
The restaurants under Creative Eateries would not have to make drastic changes to its seating arrangements though, and the increase in capacity will only be marginal, since safe management measures such as the 1m distance between tables must still be maintained.
Mrs Christina Keilthy, co-owner of the Godmama Peranakan restaurant, said that it has taken about four to five more bookings for groups of eight since Monday’s announcement.
Because of this, changes have already been made to the schedule to put more staff members on a shift, she said.
The restaurant also plans to hire at least three more part-time workers to better manage the increase in crowds.
Capitaland, the real estate firm managing Funan Mall where Godmama Peranakan is located, has allowed it to place some tables outside its premises.
“This helps us to reduce the impact of the 1m safe distancing requirements here (on the store’s capacity),” Mrs Keilthy said.
Mr Ronald Kamiyama, managing director of The Cicheti Group that owns Cicheti, Bar Cicheti and Caffe Cicheti, said that the eateries have received large numbers of requests from customers to revise their bookings to accommodate more people.
However, given that its smaller outlets at Cicheti and Bar Cicheti are already usually fully booked one to two weeks in advance, Mr Kamiyama admitted that it is proving to be difficult to meet some of these requests.
“In terms of what can be allowed within the confinements of safe distancing, Phase Three doesn’t make much of a difference as we will continue to uphold the (safe management) protocols,” he added.
Upscale buffet restaurant Carousel at Royal Plaza on Scotts hotel had guests who were asking to increase the number of seats for their reservations.
The restaurant is now fully booked for the rest of the year, but it is relooking its table arrangements to accommodate the new requests while complying with the rules, the hotel’s general manager Patrick Fiat said.
QUIET FOR SOME RESTAURANTS
For F&B places located in shophouses in the city central, news of the upcoming relaxed restrictions has not made much of a dent to their day-to-day operations.
Ms Abbyshayne Lim, chef-owner of Symmetry Cafe in Kampong Glam and Xiao Ya Tou restaurant bar in Tanjong Pagar, said that reservations did not pour in for both of her eateries.
This was unlike in mid-June when their phones rang all day after people were allowed to dine out following a partial lockdown in April and May.
“Because most of our restaurants are in shophouses, so the width (of the interior space) is quite small,” Ms Lim said of how the overall capacity in the restaurants remains the same. So for eight people, they would still have to split the customers into two tables.
Mr Peter Ng, director of Maduro cocktail bar located in Dempsey Hill, said that although it has received a few enquiries since Monday, it has not reached “the point where it’s making a difference”.
This is because one of the bar’s main offerings is live music, which still has not resumed for F&B venues under Phase Three.
“We’ve managed to create new offerings that ‘celebrate’ the live music element in the past few months (as an alternative). It’s unfortunate that we still do not have a clear indication of when live music in private F&B venues will be allowed.
“We believe that (having live music) in a safe and responsible format… will enable Maduro to fully survive and thrive in our current climate,” he said.