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CWA Special F&B in a time of Covid-19

What was the first thing that ran through your minds when you first heard of the measures taken to curb the virus e.g. social distance, circuit breakers? Why did you feel that way? We have taken the COVID-19 pandemic measures very seriously since day 1, as we have to protect both our guests and staff. We think that it’s very important to follow the guidelines given, for the benefit of everyone in the long term.

How has your business been affected since the measures were put in place? We have 3 outlets at Clarke Quay (Cuba Libre Café & Bar, Gabbar and Deutschlander) that the bar industry is greatly affected by it with the nightlife scene. We see gradual declining on business on the restaurant side (Shabestan) as well as people are worried about their health and safety to dine out. For our other bistros which are located in Fraser Tower (Cuba Libre Café & Bar and Pita Tree Mediterranean Kitchen), the main audience is the working crowd, as more people were beginning to work from home, we saw an immediate impact on our business. The same for our take away kiosks (Pita Tree Mediterranean Grilled Kebabs), Orchard Road has become a ghost town, no passers-by for takeaway for us as well. We are certain that other F&B players in the market are seeing a similar trend.

"Keep pushing with everything at your disposal and every bit of life you have. This was never an easy business and now it just got 100 times more difficult. Don’t be afraid to innovate, create, and ask for help from anyone who will listen." Puneet Agarwal, CEO / President, Eclectique F&B Concepts

How is the restaurant coping with operating expenses - overheads, rentals, delivery cost, packaging, employee welfare, salaries and benefits? How much has the three Budgets (Resilience, Unity and Solidarity) helped for assistance? It is a tough time for everyone in the industry, rental support is only applicable for certain landlords, we still have to bear the operating expenses, delivery cost, staff salaries etc. The Singapore Government reacted quite fast by assisting with manpower and rental support and facilitated temporary bridge loan facilities to help a small establishment to raise funds to keep the operations. A few of our landlords have gone beyond the government scheme to support our business. We are yet to hear from other landlords. We have to dip into our cash reserve. We try out best to survive and help the staff to rotate their working shifts so more staff can have a fair share of work and some income.

How do you feel about delivery platforms who are currently working together with restaurants to help deliver food all over Singapore? Are there aspects where they can do better? We have been working with Grabfood, Foodpanda and Deliveroo for several years now. Delivery as a business is growing, and these platforms are in a good position to take advantage of this situation. On the one hand, they have provided us with a platform for us to continue online ordering, but they also have a hefty commission fee and promotion schemes which mostly have to come out from our pocket, the margin-left for restaurants operators are very minimum. They should be more flexible on the support of smaller establishments as well instead of only favouring certain brands and pushing for these brands solely. With the business growing and economy of scale, we have not seen the changes in delivery rate commission. If the delivery cost drops between 12-15% of the rate, it would be more sustainable for all restaurant operators.

If you are currently using (a) delivery platform(s), what have you been using? Can you rate them based on delivery, efficiency, costs? Are there any other factors that you want to include during this time?

There are pros and cons, Deliveroo is the most expensive in terms of cost, but they are the most efficient among the tree as they have a dedicated account manager that helps us with operational hiccups. Foodpanda and Grabfood are no longer providing merchants with dedicated account managers, for menu changes etc, so we only can submit a form and talk to robots. Often there it takes a long time for them to get a menu right. During this COVID-19 period, we have asked them if they can be flexible to temporarily divert some of our restaurants address into a temporary kitchen address so we still can gain some sales to help survive this situation. At this point, only Deliveroo has offered that flexibility.

What are the restaurant’s plans moving forward? Have there been any challenges adjusting to the situation now, and how did you get through or resolve the issue? What did you and the team learn from the experience? We believe that the dine-in model will change in the near future. With social distancing in place, the capacity of each dining outlet is going to be reduced substantially which will then have an impact on the revenue of dine-in outlets.

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