Not business as usual for all restaurant operators

By Chee Jo-Ey

ALTHOUGH restaurants are now allowed to reopen under the conditional movement control order (MCO), there is still considerable uncertainty and anxiety in the air and the idea of going back to dining in a restaurant might not appeal to most people.

McDonald’s had announced earlier this month that it won’t be opening its doors for dine in, citing public safety as its main priority.

Food and beverage outlets have to comply with the standard of practice set by the authorities under the conditional MCO that includes table distancing, social distancing, customer registration and other health and safety measures to open for dine-ins.

Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (Fomca) president Datuk Paul Selvaraj said there’s still a lot of fear and concern among consumers with regard to infection risks and that it will remain as such for quite a while for many.

Not only that, restaurants owners themselves are concerned about the risks as well. “A lot of people are still opting for takeaways to avoid the risks so it will take some time to build confidence. Certain sanitisation measures might not be visible to consumers so they may have more worries.  

“Consumers need to see restaurants taking the standard operating procedures (SOPs) seriously and it is important that they keep to the rules as well. It is a joint responsibility,” he said.

According to SME Association president Datuk Michael Kang, restaurants are ready to reopen but customers still have concerns about dining in due to Covid-19 uncertainties. “There’s no vaccine for the virus yet and people are still wary about going out to eat,” he said.

Although most restaurants have started opening for dine in, reception is lukewarm. Eateries have to reduce their seating capacity by half and each table can only be occupied by two to four patrons, so they are raking in a lot less compared to before. Some customers also find the SOPs involved such as the registration of customer contacts troublesome and prefer takeaway services.

According to Kang, businesses have not returned to normal for restaurants since the conditional MCO started and many are expected to face closure. Restaurant operators are experiencing a lot of challenges right now, one of which includes high rental. “The government needs to swoop in to assist negotiations with property owners about discounts on rents,” he said.

“Also, previously, restaurant owners buy fresh produce in bulk, but now with the uncertainties and irregularities, they have difficulty estimating incoming business and the quantity of ingredients they need,” he added.

Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association (Presma) president Datuk Jawahar Ali Taib Khan said that fewer than 20% of the association’s members have opened for dine in so far as they don’t want to be hasty about reopening their restaurants.

“We have observed the effectiveness of the MCO in curbing the coronavirus with the declining number of new cases. Our priority is to keep the public safe so we’re not rushing to reopen. We’re making preparations for the implementation of the SOPs with the seating arrangements and all,” he said.

The relaxation of MCO rules had also coincided with the fasting month. “As for consumer sentiment, most of our customers are asking when we would open for dine in and there has been an increase in sales since the implementation of the conditional MCO. I foresee no problem going back to dine in and most of us will reopen and operate fully after Raya,” he said. – May 19, 2020

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