Since restrictions were lifted on dining-in, F&B establishments have breathed a collective sigh of relief as Singaporeans start eating out again.
But with the additional safety measures come more challenges, as one restaurateur found out recently. LG Han, who owns Labyrinth, a one Michelin-starred restaurant that serves Singaporean-inspired dishes, described on his personal Facebook account how his staff had to deal with an entitled customer.
He wrote: “So on our first day of reopening, a couple with a reservation walks in, and my GM requested to see their vaccination status on their Trace Together App after doing Safe Entry Check In. The guy casually flashes the app and when asked to show it clearly and to refresh the app in front of us to ensure that it is not a screenshot, we realised that his status is not yet fully vaccinated as per the TT app.”
“We refused to admit them as it is against the law and my GM even empathised with him… Upon being denied entry and informed politely by my GM that their reservation deposit will be forfeited, the guy immediately went into a rage.”
Han goes on in more detail of how the customer became abusive and threatened to go online to “let netizens decide”.
He continued his appeal: “Dear all, I have heard that what my staff went through yesterday isn’t an isolated incident and that other restaurants have also had similar experiences with errant customers who tried to cheat the system… Please, this is not our fault, we are just following the laws to protect you as a diner amidst the pandemic and we truly want to create a safe environment for our guests and my staff.”
“Rules are set by the government and we as a restaurant are just enforcing the rules. However, we have to bear the responsibility if our customers break the rules 😭”
Respect F&B staff
As we go out to dine again, if there is only one thing that we can remember, it is that eateries, restaurants and cafes are just following the law and we should not take our frustrations out on them.
Even a Michelin-starred restaurant is not immune to this, as Han’s post described. The incident would not have happened if the customer had bothered to read the terms and conditions before reserving his table. Labyrinth’s website explicitly states that deposits would be forfeited in such instances.
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And it is not alone. Other F&B outlets have had bad reviews as well just because some disgruntled patrons felt discriminated against due to their unvaccinated status.
With these challenges ahead, The Pride talks to three F&B owners about their perspectives on the situation and finds out how they are enforcing these new guidelines.
The customer is not always right
Such incidents are not new for F&B outlets — they have had their fair share of entitled customers during the pandemic. However, when people try to game the system and get fake vaccination certificates, there is only so much they can do.
One owner, Yugnes Susela, 32, founder of bespoke cocktail bar The Elephant Room says: “It was really unfair to Labyrinth. People are pushing their luck.”
However, another owner, Billy Tanu, 32, co-founder of Cafe Pandan, offered a more sympathetic view.
He tells the Pride: “We are in a transition period and understandably, some rules and regulation changes are not fully digested by everyone yet. That said, I feel that we should be empathetic towards each other and not resort to unkind words or rude behaviour.”
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Another F&B owner who wanted to be known only as E reiterated that cafes and restaurants are just following the rules. “It’s not the restaurant being difficult and it’s not like we do not want the business but the law is as such,” he shares with Pride.
Yugnes recalls an experience he had with an unnamed Singaporean celebrity.
He shares: “She initially made the reservation for 2 pax and then called back asking to bring one more person. When I asked if this person was vaccinated, she said no. I was shocked at how she didn’t know about this new law and also disappointed that she tried to push her luck.”
E adds that since re-opening after Phase 2, he has had to turn away customers with fake vaccinations certificates. Fortunately, none of them kicked up a fuss.
So how would they have dealt with the commotion at Labyrinth? All three applauded the actions of the staff at the restaurant — standing firm and keeping cool even in the face of a disgruntled customer.
E adds: “Perhaps the incident could be prevented by requiring customers to send proof of vaccination upon their reservation and not at the door.
Yugenes adds: “I would have protected my staff also and I would keep cool and be professional. Customers have no right to treat our staff like that.”
Besides having to deal with potential entitled customers, F&B owners have their own set of challenges to deal with.
Under the Safe Management Measures for F&B Establishments, entertainment like live music, dancing, variety acts and singing are not allowed on F&B premises. Background music is also not allowed. Even birthday songs cannot be sung!
E says: “The atmosphere is quiet. Literally! We would much prefer if the government could ease restrictions on extending alcohol hours to midnight and allowing music on the premises.”
Yugnes shares the same sentiment. He says: “It has been a big blow for F&B establishments as music creates an ambience. Without it, it’s very dull. We realise that people did not enjoy their experience in our place as much.”
While they are happy that dining-in is allowed again, they have had to deal with the slow ramp-up as operations resume. Billy says: “The slow resumption is slowly adding to the business revenue but by no means that it is business as usual.”
The Straits Times recently reported that F&B owners are asking for more support from the authorities. While the government has planned a $1.1billion support package to workers and businesses hit by Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) restrictions, these establishments are still struggling and many have had to take out loans or lay off employees.
Business is particularly slow during the week. Yugnes says: “It is slow on the weekdays and business has been affected badly. But we have been keeping our faith. On the weekends, things have picked up.”
Billy says: “We wish that more support measures can be given, but it looks like businesses are just left to fight for their survival. Some argue that if the business is good, it will naturally survive and if it isn’t, then maybe they are not cut out for it. But in a capitalistic world, in situations like these, only the big groups of companies will survive and the mom-and-pops joints will bear the real brunt of the losses.”
There is no doubt that many are still struggling to adjust to our new normal. In particular, F&B establishments have to follow the rules while making sure that they are still giving the customers the best service.
It is hard to do that when customers are belligerent or don’t follow the rules. However, the staff and owners have to make the best of it.
Yugnes says: “What I would want to say to these people is, please be mindful. If you’re not vaccinated, get it and we will welcome you wholeheartedly. No one wants to stop and reject you but If you try to go against the rules, you’re creating tension when it’s not needed.”