Managing Director, Singapore of Revenue Management Solutions
If there’s one thing that’s been consistent across the globe during the pandemic, it’s how differently each country is handling restaurant restrictions. It shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, there’s no handbook — government, corporate or otherwise — to help guide the industry through a pandemic.
We’ve watched the global response firsthand from our offices in the US, U.K., France, Singapore and Japan, with reports from hundreds of brands worldwide. We asked Winny Daud, managing director of our Singapore office, to share her experience as a restaurant analyst, client partner and consumer in the age of COVID-19. We’ve also surveyed Singapore consumers on what they think of the COVID-19 response and their concerns. Initial results of that survey can be found here.
Three key innovative initiatives stood out. These initiatives pose an interesting angle other markets might want to consider as they prepare for a time when business resumes.
Food Delivery Booster Package
Among the high points of Singapore’s response to shelter-in-place is a government-subsidized platform to help retailers that have little e-commerce knowledge or capabilities make the transition from offline to online sales. Initially, the platform was developed for small and midsized retail businesses to offset the cost of adopting online platforms. However, it has expanded to food and beverage, including restaurants and traditional food stalls in hawker centers and other F&B businesses, like markets.
The package features three initiatives, two of which focus on minimizing delivery costs for those with third-party partnerships in place. The third option provides funding of up to 90% to help local F&B businesses transform their business models and build digital capabilities. Private driver services, also hit hard by the COVID-19 response, are being enlisted to aid with delivery.
Frozen Gourmet and 5-star Drive-Thrus
Hotels are taking action unlike any we’ve encountered in the United States. Of course, in the days of COVID-19, hotels and resorts accustomed to serving large numbers of people daily have all but shut down. But their kitchen staff and valets are still busy. Many luxury hotel restaurants known for hosting special-occasion dining have found a way to stay open — by transforming their lobby drives into drive-thrus and engaging valets to manage the final — contactless — drop-off. Kitchens prepare some of their most freezable dishes, such as spaghetti, so customers can skip meal prep but still have the feeling of a home-cooked meal.
Resorts and casinos have also come together to support the community. Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands Resort, whose 40+ restaurants and cafes are closed, donated huge amounts of bread, vegetables, fruit, meat, dairy products and eggs to The Food Bank Singapore. Others have joined in to donate, and some have sent their chefs to nonprofits to cook meals.
“Along with the government aid, there’s been a real mindset of solidarity,” says Daud. “The industry has been remarkable in its flexibility and acting on impulses.”
Plan Ahead: BLTs With No Bacon
Right now, closed restaurants are looking to donate or make use of ingredients in their stock, but that dynamic may change, according to Daud.
“There’s been a lot of talk here in Singapore about food waste,” she says, “including how to put raw ingredients and products with short shelf lives into the market quickly.” Meal kits and frozen meals are a great example of ways to use ingredients and add value to the customer.
But that dynamic will change as the virus lingers and restrictions are put in place, eased, and possibly put in place once again. In trade-reliant countries, like many of the Asian countries, a time will likely come when restaurants need help sourcing ingredients and have to think on their feet for alternatives.
“We’re getting more and more questions about how best to manage demand and plan for potential shortages ahead,” says Daud. She and her team are already providing recommendations on what menus should look like while dining rooms are closed and which items should be added when restrictions start easing. Since the reopening will likely be limited at first, Daud and her team are providing recommended menus for each phase.
The team is also thinking long-term. They are working closely with clients to plan recovery by simulating business scenarios that include options for organizing the new/full menu to optimize margin and operations, realistic reinstitution of dining-in hours by location and market, and mixes of price and promotion to optimize margin.
Daud expects they will continue to be tapped in the future to help determine the best long- and short-term tactics to manage these new and unprecedented situations.