Local F&B Owners Talk Reopening

Wondering how some of your favourite restaurants are doing? Two seasoned F&B players share their thoughts about opening up again during Phase 2.

There’s never been such a difficult time for the F&B industry, which lures Singapore to eat out seven days a week. The lucky ones adapted enough to make it out to Phase 2 (and the resumption of dine-in services) unscathed, but many others are still knee-deep in cash flow and other operating pressures. Then there are those that shuttered their doors for good, like contemporary Southeast Asian restaurant Ding Dong.

To get a better sense of what dining could look like for the near future, we spoke to Cynthia Chua, the chairman and founder of Spa Esprit Group. Besides running Ding Dong, the group also owns popular concepts like Tiong Bahru Bakery, Open Farm Community, Tippling Club, and Common Man Coffee Roasters. Joining her is director of The Cicheti Group Liling Ong, who shares some tips for fellow F&B businesses.

What do you want diners to know before they visit?

Cynthia: We're very diligent and mindful about ensuring safety and hygiene management. Our staff are very eager to welcome diners back and we have focused a lot of efforts towards customer training during this period so we can serve you better!

Cynthia Chua, chairman and founder of Spa Esprit Group, and Liling Ong, director at The Cicheti Group

Liling: How much they've been missed and how happy we are to welcome them back. Our restaurant walls have felt far too lonely without them. Their patience and cooperation to work with us in maintaining health and safety protocols matter so much - and allows us to stay open in the future. Also, new menus, new dishes!

Are you concerned that diners won’t be ready to dine out even if restaurants are ready to open?

Cynthia: I think there's pent up demand due to the extended circuit breaker, we see that our restaurants are recovering with a healthy demand in bookings. Having said that, there will still be a group of people who are hesitant to dine out or keep dining out to a minimal as the virus is still present, and that's okay. We continue to serve them through our islandwide delivery platforms.

Liling: Not so much. I believe that it is our job to enforce strong operational and hygiene standards, and to clearly communicate this across to our dining community and instill a high level of faith and confidence for all returning customers. Singaporeans are extremely social creatures and I am sure many are yearning to reconnect with friends at their favourite establishments. As long as we uphold our end of the bargain by delivering a top product in a safe space, the diners will come.

What are your sales goals during this tenuous time?

Cynthia: I think we need to be nimble to react to the current situation. Dine-in capacity has reduced with social distancing, and this has to be made up with new revenue streams like on-demand food delivery platforms and a combination of cost reductions in other areas to make the business sustainable.

Liling: Maintaining new revenue streams such as delivery as that has allowed us to get our product to a much wider audience, focusing more on the concept of turning our customers into home chefs via our DIY kits.

What advice would you offer other restaurants as they resume operations?

Cynthia: We need to be ready to switch to fight mode as the situation is fluid. Know your numbers and have your measures at hand so you can plan for your cash flow to sustain this period of difficulty which will go on for another six months at least.

Liling: Get on top of your business situation as quickly as you can. These include a number of things including challenges of reopening, juggling manpower, setting internal hygiene protocols to be enforced, providing the necessary staff training, and preparing for the anticipated number of customers coming through your doors. Stay ahead of the curve and anticipate the knock-on effects of the past few months in future customer behaviour. This will allow you to be nimble should the current climate take another drastic turn.

Don’t lose sight of your number one strength: your team. Keep values intact and build towards a greater collective team spirit!

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