Chinatown Food Street Closes After 20 Years: Can F&B Outlets Outlast The Pandemic?

Chinatown Food Street close down

This week, the Straits Times reported that the iconic Chinatown Food Street closed down for good on 22 October 2021. While the food concept becomes another high profile victim of the COVID-19 pandemic, it will surely not be the last one.

The F&B sector has been one of the hardest-hit because of the pandemic. As Singapore tries to open up, it’s been met with multiple set-backs – resulting in a start-stop re-opening structure.

Most recently, the Stabilisation Phase, set to end on 25 October was extended to 21 November 2021. During the announcement, Finance Minister and co-chair of the COVID-19 taskforce, Lawrence Wong, mentioned that this was probably Singapore’s most difficult phase in our COVID-19 battle.

Read Also: 5 Things Businesses Should Know About The $640 Million Enhanced Stabilisation Phase Support Measures From 25 Oct To 21 Nov 2021

Lack Of Certainty In Re-Opening Measures Does Not Help

This year alone, we’ve been through multiple re-opening and re-closures of the economy. While it can be argued that those steps were vital in Singapore’s fight against COVID-19, this can be very disruptive for businesses planning their survival. Being a mainly brick-and-mortar experience, F&B businesses cannot plan ahead with any certainty.  

Any re-opening measures gives the sector hope that they may be able to outlast the pandemic. Unfortunately, during this year, this has always been met with subsequent tightening measures.

This does not allow for proper planning for F&B businesses. Should they expand manpower, only to be told the have to tighten again in the following few weeks? Should they shut their doors, only to see re-opening happen the following month?

Read Also: How Swee Kee’s Third Gen Owner Is Keeping The 82-Year-Old Family Business Going Strong Despite Closing Its Flagship Outlet

The Narrative: It’s Not The Responsible Thing To Go Out Unnecessarily 

Imagine the scenario of employers having to let their employees work from home because of government requirements for 100% work-from-home, only to find out that they got COVID-19 because they were dining out.

The current narrative is that the socially responsible thing to do is to limit our outdoor activities. Not just that, many employers are also not allowed to bring employees back to office, so they would expect them to be responsible enough to stay safe.  This would definitely discourage people from dining out, even if they can.

F&B businesses are allowed to operate. But the customers may not come in full force. In fact, customers who dine out regularly may see questions about whether they are behaving responsibly.

According to the Retail Sales and Food & Beverage Services Index, total F&B sales were down 6.7% year-on-year in August. This was also before the Stabilisation Phase kicked in – and the situation for F&B businesses may be even more worse today. The closure of the Chinatown Food Street concept is just an indication of how dire it

Less Government Support Compared To The Past

Minister Lawrence Wong has already suggested that phase is as difficult as any of the previous phases. However, in terms of government support, there is less to go around.

For example, the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS) has been dialled back – providing less salary support for workers compared to previous tightening measures. While those measures were more restrictive, just because F&B outlets are allowed to remain open does not mean they need less support.

In fact, being allowed to stay open means they have a decision to make – whether to open and pay their employees or shut and perhaps put certain employees on no-pay leave. Staying open may be the costlier option.

Read Also: Here’s What You Need To Know About The Jobs Support Scheme (JSS)

F&B Sector Has To Comply With Many Restrictions

Manpower cost may already be a factor for their survival. F&B businesses now have to dedicate additional manpower to other non-operational roles, including for an employer supervised self-swabs (ESSS) for employees, someone verifying that customers are vaccinated and dining in groups of twos, someone ensuring that customers are maintaining safe distance while dining. 

These additional requirements will take up additional manpower – as we’re already seeing dedicated individuals doing these tasks.

All this will add to the cost of operating as well as the stress of operational requirements.

Read Also: 6 Things To Note About The Fast and Easy Testing (FET) For Employees (According to MOH)

F&B Businesses Relying On Tourism May Not Get The Boost From Border Re-Openings

Singapore has been actively opening Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTLs) in hopes to reinvigorate the tourism industry. 

The Chinatown Food Street is a food concept that relies heavily on tourism for its business survival. Despite more VTL routes being opened up, the business did not think that they could ride out the slump.

In reality, even if tourism comes back, it may take a long time before it comes back to what it used to be. Hence, businesses – F&B or not – that is relying on tourism dollars should brace for an extended period of poorer takings.

There’s also no certainty that the travel routes will continue to expand, and not be scaled back – as has already been seen in the past.

Read Also: Isetan To Close Its Parkway Parade Store: Do Retail Stores Have A Chance Of Surviving The Pandemic?

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