The F&B and hospitality industries are among the hardest hit since the pandemic upended businesses worldwide. The closing down of many well-known dining establishments around the globe have left people questioning the relevance of fine dining and high-end dining outlets as strict social distancing measures, mandatory temperature checks, face masks and the requirement to fill out personal information have caused many diners to think twice before stepping out for a nice meal.
However, in some parts of Southeast Asia at least, it seems that those minor nuances are not enough to keep diners from heading out to their favourite establishments. One only needs to look at how some of those high-end dining spots are working to adapt to the new climate and the ones that were quick to take action have proven there is hope for the industry.
“Some of the big things we’ve done over lockdown and since lockdown is adjusting our delivery times and service hours,” says Dave Pynt, chef and owner of Burnt Ends, the Michelin star Singaporean modern barbecue restaurant that was voted one of the 50 Best Restaurants in Asia in 2019. “Before every service, we have about half an hour to an hour that is dedicated to deliveries. This allows us to continue our takeaway service to those who choose to stay home whilst continuing to serve dine-in customers,” he adds.
Similar to other industries, ensuring there is sufficient revenue is a key part in the process of adapting to the new normal. CEO and Chairman of Violet Oon Singapore, Manoj Murjani says one of the first steps they took was to look into the internal issues as well as making changes to their menu and services, “We had to extremely quickly pivot to an agile organisation, conserving cash flow, provide transparency and support to our staff, particularly those that had families abroad, consolidate our menu offering and business to operating Island-wide delivery from a single location.” says Murjani.
The renowned Violet Oon’s National Kitchen then connected with their clientele digitally. “We then widened our menu choice and began operations from a second location. Following reopening, we then again had to change as that was best during lockdown, which was different in a gradual reopening during the social distancing phase, when space and location were important.”
But in the long run, the business model will need to undergo some changes in order to survive. “I think dining will have to cater to a hybrid model, whereby the infrastructure will have to cater to both a in-dining experience with more separation amongst parties and to build up a catering clientele to make up for the pre-pandemic difference in order to support the necessary costs and investments required,” says Murjani.
With these new methods in place, it can arguably be said that dining establishments are going through a transformative period. “The pandemic has really pushed things forward about five or ten years and in this environment we’re looking at that cheaper or fast casual takeaway model going forward alongside the artisanal fine-dining scene. I think those two models will polarise things a little more and the middle ground will slowly be phased out,” says Pynt.
Regardless of the new methods in place, a dining spot can’t function without its customers. Pynt says he hasn’t noticed that many changes in his customer’s demands although he points out there are noticeable shifts in dining habits, “I think the biggest thing that I’ve noticed is that when people come out to restaurants and dine with friends, they’re making sure that the experience is enjoyed as much as possible. Whereas before, diners took for granted the times when they could come out in groups of more than five and they could come in whenever they wanted, dining out has become a more important part of their ritual.”
If there’s anything the pandemic has proven is that when it comes to dining out, the act of heading out to your favourite spot, meeting friends and sharing a meal together is still a big part of our society and in these times, act as a morale booster. The industry may undergo a bit of a shift, but as long as food remains an integral part of Southeast Asian culture, it is quite unlikely the dining scene will fade out anytime soon.
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