Dispatch From Asia: What Does Restaurant Dining Look Like Now?

In April, RMS Managing Director Winny Daud shared her insights on Singapore’s response to the pandemic, based on her experience as a restaurant analyst, client partner and Singaporean. We spoke to her again this month to see what’s changed in the restaurant industry now that the country has entered Phase 2. We also asked Cathy Ko, RMS Senior Analyst based in Japan, who oversees Korea, to weigh in on their response to the pandemic and way forward.

What is the current state of the restaurant industry in Singapore and South Korea?

Daud: Singapore is now in Phase 2. Most offices still require staff to work from home, and entertainment and religious venues remain closed. Restaurant dine-in is limited to five individuals per table, and overall capacity is reduced based on the size of the dining area. This includes food courts and traditional hawker centers. In the latter, markings on tables or seats limit seating and, thus, capacity.

The locals are starting to go out of their homes, but it is definitely not back to a normal level — many of us still prefer to stay at home.

Ko: We never experienced a mandatory shutdown of restaurants like in other countries, so all restaurants are operating as usual. That said, many establishments are experiencing a shift from dine-in to delivery.

The second wave of cases brought changes to buffet restaurants, which the Korea Center for Disease Prevention and Control (KCDC) classified under “High-Risk Facilities.” When classified as high risk, businesses must comply with measures such as:

  • Maintaining a visitors list with contact information
  • Notifying officials of any positive cases in the establishment
  • Checking temperature and symptoms for all visitors and employees
  • Using masks, social distancing and facility sanitization

What changes are being implemented to manage COVID-19 and support recovery?

Daud: Singapore has implemented contact tracing, so before entering any businesses (offices, malls, shops, restaurants, supermarkets, etc.), we are required to check in by scanning a QR code and have our temperature taken. We scan the same QR code to check out. If positive cases are found in the business, we are notified immediately.

Ko: Even during the initial stages of the virus, the government required all high-risk establishments to keep contact information of all visitors. Sadly, research revealed that many visitors wrote down false information, causing a delay in communicating with those who came in contact with the virus.

With the second wave, South Korea implemented an electronic sign-in system. Similar to Singapore, all patrons are required to scan a QR code that collects visitors’ contact information. The data is encrypted and will be destroyed after four weeks. Handwritten lists remain, but personnel must also check IDs to confirm the information.

Both establishments and patrons that fail to comply can get up to KRW 3 million fine — about $2,500 US. Establishments can also be shut down. 

In your opinion, what changes are here to stay?

Daud: Early during shutdown, wholesalers seized the opportunity to sell directly to the consumer. This trend has persisted, and I think will remain. Wholesalers are utilizing social media platforms such as Facebook Live to promote their goods, along with word-of-mouth recommendations and creating interest groups of likely customers, such as home cooks or baking enthusiasts. Taxis and private-hire vehicles like Uber deliver the goods to the consumer.

Work from home also seems to be here to stay, so deliveries will be the best sales drivers.

A lot in common

Over the past four-plus months, we’ve supported the restaurant industry’s response to COVID-19 from our (home) offices in the U.S., U.K., France, Singapore and Japan. It’s been a bumpy ride, to say the least, and we’ve seen vast differences between the sectors, countries, continents and clients we serve. But we all share a common desire: to deliver value to the customer and position ourselves successfully for the future.

Our role in this common mission is to share information — in the form of data and insights that can help our clients and the industry make the best decisions. Reach out to us today if you are looking for practical recovery strategies designed to optimize menu profitability, sales and your brand’s financial health.

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