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‘We’re all dying’: Businesses at Holland Village’s Lorong Mambong hope for ban on outdoor dining to be lifted

SINGAPORE — They have been forced to shut their outdoor dining areas for one-and-a-half years, and now some businesses along Lorong Mambong in Holland Village reckon they might have to close their outlets in a year if the situation drags on. 

‘We’re all dying’: Businesses at Holland Village’s Lorong Mambong hope for ban on outdoor dining to be lifted

Food establishments along Lorong Mambong on Jan 20, 2022.

  • Businesses along Lorong Mambong said that the ban on outdoor dining had affected their revenue
  • The ban has been in place since June 2020 after crowds were observed breaching Covid-19 safety measures
  • Business owners said they are struggling to break even, with some such as Wala Wala saying they may close in a year if the situation persists
  • The Ministry of Trade and Industry said it will review the resumption of outdoor refreshment areas at a suitable time, factoring in the Covid-19 situation

SINGAPORE — They have been forced to shut their outdoor dining areas for one-and-a-half years, and now some businesses along Lorong Mambong in Holland Village reckon they might have to close their outlets in a year if the situation drags on. 

The authorities had on June 20, 2020 banned outdoor dining after crowds were observed breaching Covid-19 safe distancing measures outside one of the restaurants along the road.

Mr Stanley Yeo, the owner of Wala Wala, one of the establishments there, recalled that the day before the ban was announced, his bar was at “full house” with 200 customers seated at its indoor and outdoor dining spaces.

That was the day Phase Two of the circuit breaker exit kicked in.

“I guess because it was a Friday and it was after the two-month circuit breaker, everyone wanted to come out and catch up with people,” said Mr Yeo.

Since then, Wala Wala, which has been a mainstay at Holland Village for close to three decades, has become a lot quieter.

Mr Yeo, 53, said that with the closure of the outdoor seating area, he sees about 100 patrons on Friday nights.

Taking into account current Covid-19 regulations, the establishment's outdoor area, if opened, can take about 80 patrons. Its indoor area can hold 50.

Without outdoor dining, sales have dropped by more than half — about S$70,000 to S$90,000 a month — said Mr Yeo.

He is already struggling to keep the establishment afloat by paying between S$20,000 and S$50,000 a month out of his own pocket. 

“I think we can only stay open for another year in the current situation before we consider other alternatives,” said Mr Yeo, referring to the closure of the outdoor area and shortened hours for alcohol consumption. 

The authorities had instructed eateries along Lorong Mambong to remove their outdoor refreshment areas in June 2020 after crowds were observed outside the restaurant British Indian Curry Hut on the first day of Phase Two of the circuit breaker exit.

The street, which is usually closed to traffic in the evenings, was then reopened to prevent people from gathering.

British Indian Curry Hut was also ordered to shut and only resumed dine-in services nine days later after implementing Covid-19 safety measures. 

British Indian Curry Hut in Lorong Mambong, the site of the large gathering in June 2020 that triggered the ban on outdoor dining.

‘WE’RE ALL DYING’ 

Businesses along Lorong Mambong told TODAY that the ban on outdoor dining for more than one year had hit their revenue and also turned the once-bustling Holland Village into a “ghost town".

“I think we’re all dying,” said Mr Olivier Bendel, the chief executive officer of Deliciae Hospitality Management, which manages the French restaurant L’Entrecote at Holland Village.

“My restaurant in particular has a terrace which is covered but I cannot use it. I’m probably losing half of my seats and half of my turnover,” said Mr Bendel.

The 50-year-old did not specify how much half his turnover is but said that the restaurant at Holland Village was currently being kept afloat by revenue from its five other outlets around Singapore.

British Indian Curry Hut said that it has seen its monthly revenue drop by 40 per cent, or S$30,000, due to the ban on outdoor dining.

Its general manager, Mr Khader Basha Ghouse Basha, said that with safe distancing, the indoor area can hold 30 patrons while the outdoor space can host 10. 

Without outdoor seating, there is low turnover of customers, reducing the revenue that the bar can make, said Mr Basha.

Previously, customers who were only there for drinks would occupy the outdoor seats while those who were having meals would sit indoors. 

As such, the turnover rate for outdoor seats was higher as customers would leave and make way for others after finishing their drinks, said Mr Basha.

Now, the bar gets only one round of business from customers who are either there to drink or to have a meal. 

He added that the restaurant is struggling to break even and expects to shut in a year if the situation persists.

"We are not seeking any rebate or assistance to run the business. We are just asking them to let us open our outdoor refreshment area so we are able to sustain the business during this period,” said Mr Basha.

Bigger chains, such as Harry’s, have also not been spared. 

The bar, which has an outlet along Lorong Mambong, has seen its monthly revenue drop by 60 per cent compared to before the circuit breaker when outdoor dining was allowed, said Mr Nasen Thiagarajan, its chief executive officer.

After accounting for Covid-19 regulations, the indoor area of the bar can hold 16 patrons while the outdoor space can take 48.

Mr Nasen, 48, noted that of all its 15 outlets with outdoor areas, only the one at Holland Village has outdoor dining closed.  

Other outlets such as those at Boat Quay or Far East Shopping Centre at Orchard Road were allowed to open their outdoor refreshment areas after the circuit breaker.

Mr Lovein Shrestha, the owner of Baden Restaurant & Pub, said that Holland Village has “lost its vibe” without outdoor dining along Lorong Mambong. 

His own business has gone down by half, or S$70,000 monthly, given the ban on outdoor dining as well as the 10.30pm rule on alcohol sales.

His restaurant can take 40 people indoors and 32 people outdoors after safe distancing is accounted for.

The 38-year-old added that he is “not making any money at all” currently and is barely breaking even. He has put in more than S$350,000 of his own in the last year to keep the business afloat.

He said he would have to close his restaurant, which has been at Holland Village for 25 years, in a year if the current situation continues. 

About 30 businesses along Lorong Mambong had banded together immediately after the ban on outdoor dining last year to engage the authorities on reopening it.

CODE OF CONDUCT TO PREVENT CROWDS

About 30 businesses along the street had banded together immediately after the ban on outdoor dining last year to engage the authorities on reopening it, said Mr Nasen.

Called the Holland Village Stakeholders, they had drawn up a Code of Conduct to ensure that businesses can manage their outdoor refreshment areas without the risk of crowds breaching safe management measures.

The final version of the Code of Conduct was submitted to the authorities last July. Among several things, it proposes that:

  • Each establishment appoints at least one officer to ensure that patrons adhere to safe management measures. The officer should also disperse crowds if they form on the footpaths and roads
  • Queues at each establishment should not have more than 10 people
  • Establishments will collectively fund and deploy at least four security officers on weekdays and six officers on weekends between 6pm and 11pm to disperse crowds and ensure they adhere to safety rules along Lorong Mambong

However, the implementation of the Code of Conduct had been delayed by the authorities due to the Covid-19 situation, according to Mr Nasen.

He had also appealed to the ministerial task force in an email last December asking them to consider reopening the outdoor refreshment areas but had not heard back.

In response to TODAY’s queries, the Ministry of Trade and Industry said on Saturday that it will continue to review the resumption of the outdoor refreshment areas along the street.

“We recognise the challenges that the operators along Lorong Mambong have been facing during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Government agencies have been engaging the food and beverage operators along Lorong Mambong. We will continue to review the resumption of the outdoor refreshment areas at a suitable time, factoring in the Covid-19 situation and public health considerations,” said a ministry spokesperson.

Related topics

Holland Village Lorong Mambong Covid-19 safe distancing

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