Covid-19: F&B businesses cheer move to lift 10.30pm alcohol ban but worry about manpower shortage
SINGAPORE — Businesses in the food-and-beverage and entertainment sector have waited at least two years for a ban on late-night alcohol drinking to be lifted but they are not exactly raising their glasses at the thought of people painting the town red just yet.
- The Government will be lifting the ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol after 10.30pm at F&B places from March 29
- Group size of patrons a table will also be doubled from five to 10
- Many F&B venues celebrated the long-awaited changes
- However, some are scrambling to hire workers to cope with the anticipated surge in business
- Others may have to adjust business hours to cope and to maximise "prime time" for drinkers
SINGAPORE — Businesses in the food-and-beverage (F&B) and entertainment sector have waited at least two years for a ban on late-night alcohol drinking to be lifted but they are not exactly raising their glasses at the thought of people painting the town red just yet.
The reason? The shortage of manpower to serve the anticipated hordes of customers who have also been waiting long to socialise in bigger groups and slake their thirst at watering holes.
Mr Andrew Ing, a committee member of the Restaurant Association of Singapore and chief operating officer of OUE Restaurants, said: "It's great for businesses and restaurants. Now, restaurants don't have to squeeze everyone in early and customers will have more time to drink at a leisurely pace."
However, he also said that the industry has been bogged down by a manpower crunch, not to mention a tightening of foreign worker policies that were announced during this year's Budget last month.
"Some restaurants may want to open later but may not have enough staff, so they might have to reduce the number of seats they can take or consider not extending the hours," Mr Ing added.
When the Government’s Covid-19 task force announced at a press conference on Thursday (March 24) that it is doing away with the present 10.30pm cut-off time for alcohol sales and consumption from next Tuesday, it caught some people by surprise.
Live performances, screening of live broadcast programmes and recorded entertainment will also be allowed to resume at F&B outlets.
“We have to do what makes sense for the business, (it may mean) closing on Mondays or forgoing lunch in order to have enough staff for the night.Mr Joseph Ong, president of the Singapore Nightlife Business Association”
Online users took to social media to celebrate the news, some even creating memes to express their joy.
Ms Joey Tan, 22, a business development executive, said: "I didn't expect the Government to ease up on the restrictions so much. I was very happy to hear that they were lifting the cut-off time for drinks.
"I can't wait for everything to return back to normal again."
The changes were first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a televised national address before the press conference.
Others include the doubling of permissible group-size for social gatherings from five to 10, and making the wearing of masks optional outdoors.
However, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said that it is still looking into the safe resumption of nightlight businesses such as discotheques, karaoke clubs and nightclubs, due to the much higher risk of disease spread for these activities and the greater difficulties in complying with prevailing regulations.
The authorities will give an update on the re-opening of such businesses in the coming weeks.
The Restaurant Association of Singapore said in a Facebook post on Thursday that the latest moves are a "long awaited signal towards recovery for our F&B community, which has been plagued by the effects of Covid-19 the past two years".
“With live music and performances back, we can make the mood a bit lighter. Deejays are also going to be happy to have work again.Mr Andrew Ing, member of the Restaurant Association of Singapore”
In a similar vein, Mr Jesse Vida, head bartender at Atlas bar, said: "It has been a challenging two-and-a-half years. Singapore has been on such a roll, posing itself as a global leader for bars and restaurants but... it has taken a more cautious approach (towards easing social distancing rules)."
With the 10.30pm cut-off time lifted, many restaurants will be working towards maximising business from 10.30pm to 12am, which many have described as their "prime time".
Mr Joseph Ong, president of the Singapore Nightlife Business Association, said that the window could account for 30 per cent to 50 per cent of a day's worth of revenue.
Some nightclubs and bars have had to convert their businesses to provide food services during the pandemic to survive.
Mr Jerrold Khoo, the director and manager of Stay Gold Flamingo bar, said that there could be an estimated 40 per cent increase in revenue.
Mr Norman Then, founder and chief executive officer of Stickies Bar, said that the hour-and-a-half window would "easily double sales on a busy day".
However, some are worried that the short notice to the change of rules early next week may leave them understaffed and unprepared for a surge in demand.
Mr Ong, who is also chairman and managing director of One Group, which oversees nightspots such as One Altitude Bar, said that F&B outlets would have to make adjustments to manpower resources or operating hours to cope.
"We have to do what makes sense for the business, (it may mean) closing on Mondays or forgoing lunch in order to have enough staff for the night."
Mr Then said that he plans to "aggressively recruit and train new staff to the required service standards".
However, more notice time would have allowed him to properly plan for hiring and finances, he added.
"We are always kept at the crossroads and it is impossible for us to forecast the staffing needs... There were certain months when we were overstaffed and had no foreseeable plans to open. This all has an impact on our budgeting and staffing."
Others chimed in to remark that the decision to allow live music will certainly improve the ambience for eateries.
Mr Ing said: "With live music and performances back, we can make the mood a bit lighter. Deejays are also going to be happy to have work again."
Mr Ong said that he plans on having acoustic bands and deejays playing music in the background during the first few weeks. This is to "set the right tone and get the team back to working together again".
Some of these F&B owners, who also oversee entertainment clubs, are looking forward to the resumption of businesses for night operations.
Mr Ong said: "We are in conversation with the authorities to see how we can reopen this sector in a safe manner. It will help if we can finalise the position on how they (nightlife businesses) are going to reopen."