F&B groups breathe sigh of relief after relaxation of social distancing protocols

September 22, 2021 | 00:00
After extended lockdowns, many food and beverage businesses in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are preparing to reopen.
F&B groups breathe sigh of relief after relaxation of social distancing protocols
Many restaurants in Hanoi cleaned up overnight to prepare for their business resumption after more than 50 days of lockdown. Photo: Duc Thanh

Since early September, Ho Chi Minh City has allowed food and beverage (F&B) businesses to provide takeaway services from 6am to 6pm. To ensure that pandemic prevention measures are met, the city has requested such businesses to also apply the stay-at-work model, with continuous coronavirus tests for their staff every two days. Despite the green light, many F&B businesses in the city remain careful.

Harry Ang, founder of the Singaporean restaurant chain Lion City told VIR, “It’s a good decision to extend the lockdown and utilise more time for planning the next steps to prevent another outbreak. We have been preparing well, as we know that life will never be the same again. All plans have to be carefully executed according to prevention protocols.”

He added that he agrees with the local authorities on COVID-19 tests as a good way to prevent infections from spreading and to avoid future lockdowns. “We have advanced kits which allow for painless tests with 90 per cent accuracy and results in three minutes. Our plan is to restart operations with a small team to keep the risk low,” he said.

Lion City kept its plan simple, only allowing 6-10 employees back at the workplace to observe every step before going back to its normal daily operation. The chain will start with its flagship store in Ho Chi Minh City in District 1, with deliveries scheduled as the only operation. All food carrier bags will be disinfected before being handed over to the delivery staff.

Some supermarkets and food stores are also adding more goods and hiring more staff to serve customers as shopping activities can be eased more in the coming weeks.

A representative of Saigon Co.op said that the chain is currently preparing to increase the source of goods to serve customers. The chain plans to double its staff to ensure a steady supply of goods to people during the city’s gradual reopening.

Meanwhile, a representative of AEON Vietnam insisted that its supermarkets always ensure goods to serve the shopping needs of people, especially after Ho Chi Minh City was expected to end some social distancing restrictions on September 16.

However, due to the required lockdown extension of two weeks, the two AEON supermarkets in Tan Phu and Binh Tan districts have not yet been allowed to reopen, and are now continuing to focus on online channels.

“We have a strategy to retain the workforce during the pandemic to ensure business continuity,” said an AEON representative. “AEON Vietnam has given priority to vaccinated employees and arranged shifts to ensure the operation of our supermarkets. During the pandemic, up to now, AEON Vietnam has still guaranteed jobs for about 4,000 employees, without cutting the number of employees or reducing wages or working hours,” he said.

Although a gradual reopening is necessary for F&B businesses, many of them seem cautious in following through with these plans.

The leaders of Morico, a Japanese-style restaurant chain, were puzzled when they heard about the requirements of the city. Managing director Hang Tran said that the stay-at-work model is the biggest difficulty for the chain, simply because most of the restaurant’s employees are not willing to stay at work. Morico’s restaurants are located within shopping centres, which are largely incapable of accommodating staff.

“Therefore, we will only reopen very slowly as we lack the staff numbers. We have good relationships with our suppliers, so most of our supply chain will be back on track quickly, except for fresh vegetables. Our solution is a reduced menu, heavily focused on deliveries,” Tran said.

Likewise, the Phuc Long coffee and tea chain has resumed its operation but it does not open many stores at due to supply chain issues. Other big coffee chains like Highlands Coffee, Starbucks, and The Coffee House have yet to make any announcement on their reopening. These chains remain focused on selling online products such as coffee packages, mooncakes, and ready-made coffee.

Luxury restaurants located in high-end hotels are apparently not in a hurry to reopen immediately, but instead take their time to research new business models and develop home delivery services. Before being forced to temporarily close, most of these restaurants have turned to serving domestic customers and selling takeouts as a solution to maintain operations after the international tourist market was temporarily shut down.

“We could not predict the pandemic in the beginning, so we are very cautious now,” said Scott Hodgetts, general manager of Sheraton Saigon Hotels and Towers. “Takeaway services are not just temporary. We have set these as the key to keep serving guests, especially during the ongoing pandemic. With these services and more, we can build a solid operational foundation and create a sustainable offering to contribute to the revenue stream in the long term. We have strictly followed all government regulations to ensure that we could protect our guests, our associates, and our business.”

At the moment, Sheraton Saigon is promoting a wide range of dishes available at affordable prices, including Vietnamese, South Korean, and Western cuisine.

“We advocate Marriott Bonvoy on Wheels – a regional campaign of Marriott International to promote restaurant quality cuisine to people’s homes. We follow the protocols of Global Food Safety for safe food deliveries and thorough hygiene procedures,” Hodgetts added.

In Hanoi, 19 districts have not recorded any cases of community infections for more than 10 days as of last week, which led the city to allow for basic operations of many businesses from the noon of September 16. However, F&B businesses remain restricted to takeout services and have to close before 9pm.

Many restaurants cleaned up overnight before September 16 to prepare for their business resumption after more than 50 days of lockdown. Businesses selling stationery, books, equipment, school supplies, vehicle repairs, electronics, and home appliances also allowed to resume operations since September 16.

Trung Bac, a restaurant owner in Ba Dinh district shared, “After hearing the news, I was very happy. I cleaned and prepared ingredients myself to serve customers because my employees are currently in the countryside and cannot go to Hanoi.”

To ensure safety, many stores have prepared antiseptic water, masks, and QR code leaflets for medical declarations.

By Van Oanh

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