No easy feat: A look inside the F&B industry’s struggles amidst COVID-19 uncertainty

by Vera

To say that the pandemic has taken a toll on us all is a sore understatement, but above the fatigue and frustration, the F&B industry is undoubtedly amongst the worst to be hit. Between the ever-changing dining restrictions, erratic relief grants, and increasing ingredient costs, the tumultuous season for F&B owners rages on.

We’ve been here before — gotten hurled into unprecedented change, back into familiarity, and again to square one. We spoke to F&B owners Joni from Grids & Circles cafe, Chanel from Whisking Bakes, Kent from HUSK Nasi Lemak, and the co-owner of Toa Payoh Lorong 5 Bak Chor Mee to hear their struggles, takeaways, and what gives them hope even in a current reality that appears gloomy.

1. What was the biggest struggle you faced with these ever-changing restrictions?

“I think the reduction in footfall in town is probably the greatest challenge as that impacts revenue for the cafe directly. Singaporeans are largely compliant to the regulations, and whenever there’s a spike in cases, footfall does come down with or without new restrictions.” –Joni, Grids & Circles

HUSK nasi lemak (F&B)
Photo: @husknasilemak/instagram

“We’ve encountered a decrease in sales due to social distancing measures and work-from-home implementation. Customers tend to stay at home due to the increase in COVID-19 cases and this has severely impacted our sales. As of now, we are unable to meet the daily sales quota.” -Kent, HUSK Nasi Lemak

“People don’t want to check in, so they’ll stand outside our door and get us to pass them their order”

-Chanel, Whisking Bakes

“Worried over loss of income and customers” -Toa Payoh Lorong 5 Bak Chor Mee

Whisking Bakes' orh nee tart (F&B)
Photo: @whiskingbakes/instagram

“One of the struggles is getting people to cooperate with checking in and safe distancing. People would say that they don’t want to check in, so they’ll stand outside our door and get us to pass them their order. However, that defeats the purpose, because checking in helps us track who we come in contact with, not who stepped into our shop or not. The latest restrictions of only 2 pax, and the sudden increase in cases have also led to a steep decrease in our walk-in crowds, and that has led to us having excess bakes or wastage.” -Chanel, Whisking Bakes

2. How did you pivot/innovate to suit the unprecedented arrangements?

“We took up the delivery platform WHYQ, hoping to increase our sales” -Toa Payoh Lorong 5 Bak Chor Mee

“We’ve pivoted from focusing on radius-based customers to island-wide by increasing marketing awareness campaigns and by advertising take-aways on our website and on food delivery apps.” -Kent, HUSK Nasi Lemak

Grids' new silky matcha (F&B)
Photo: @gridscoffee/instagram

“We have been ramping up our online delivery offers and work@grids program. We’ve also used this period to revamp our menu to make improvements to our food and beverages offerings. Our Silky Matcha and Milky Hojicha were introduced during the first P2HA, and following the 2nd P2HA we introduced new sandos and omurice.” –Joni, Grids & Circles

Chanel's bake box (F&B)
Photo: @whiskingbakes/instagram

“We wanted more people to be able to enjoy our bakes, so we came up with a bake box, where we had a bit of everything. That meant that even one person at home could finish our bakes, and we included free delivery for these bake boxes, making it more affordable for people to treat themselves or to send their friends/family some love.” –Chanel, Whisking Bakes

3. What’s your biggest takeaway during this process?

Grids' F&B  team undergoing training
Photo: @gridscoffee/instagram

“The team at Grids has really been the highlight of this process. They have worked tirelessly on the product innovation and optimising our operational processes. And the willingness to go the extra mile knowing that the F&B scene is suffering and sticking together, thats valuable and priceless.” Joni, Grids & Circles

“My biggest takeaway is to be adaptable. Even if one product does very well, we can never keep selling only that one product in the same old way. We had to think about people’s needs with the new regulations, and adjust our products to match them. Another really big takeaway for me personally, is to breathe and rest. I’m the kind of person that finds it hard to slow down, and I can get overly stressed out. Sometimes it’s best to rest and recharge.” –Chanel, Whisking Bakes

“We realised that we have to rely heavily on the support of friends, family members, and influencer posts.” -Kent, HUSK Nasi Lemak

4. Was there a blessing in disguise amongst the new changes, and if yes, what was it?

“Not really… Hahaha! I honestly wish there was something good I could share because I hate being a Debby Downer, but it has really been a very difficult and stressful time for us. I believe it’s the same for a lot of F&B owners too.” –Chanel, Whisking Bakes

“Working with the team and getting to know each of them better during this time, building our relationships, and improving our teamwork.” -Joni, Grids & Circles

“We are staying optimistic.”

-Kent, HUSK Nasi Lemak
Chef Gideon frying food (F&B)
Photo: @husknasilemak/instagram

“Every dark cloud has a silver lining, we’ve yet to find ours. However we are staying optimistic.” -Kent, HUSK Nasi Lemak

“If anything, the implementation of clearing one’s own trays has helped to keep the hawker centre cleaner.” –Toa Payoh Lorong 5 Bak Chor Mee

5. What’s something that gives you hope/keeps you going even amidst uncertainty in the F&B industry?

“Receiving good comments and good reviews, and when our customers finish their food up ’till the last grain of rice.” -Kent, HUSK Nasi Lemak

“As long as they support us, we will be here to bake for them.”

-Chanel, Whisking Bakes
Chanel's new F&B business, Whisking Bakes
Photo: @whiskingbakes/instagram

“It’s our customers. When they tell us they enjoy our bakes or how happy their friends or family are to receive our bakes, it sends me up to the moon. I know that at the end of the day, there are still people who enjoy our bakes, and as long as they support us, we will be here to bake for them.” –Chanel, Whisking Bakes

“The continuous support of our long time regulars” –Toa Payoh Lorong 5 Bak Chor Mee

“Definitely the team keeps us going. Their dedication to the mission of providing top-notch food and service for every customer.” –Joni, Grids & Circles

6. What’s one thing you wish you could say to your patrons/potential patrons during this period?

“We definitely would like to thank many of them for their continuous support for Grids Coffee. Serving the neighbourhood of Chinatown has been a privilege and getting to know the residents who just pop over at anytime of the day for their coffee fix and brunch.” -Joni, Grids & Circles

“Serving the neighbourhood of Chinatown has been a privilege”

-Joni, Grids & Circles

“Thank you for giving us the opportunity to serve you with quality and wholesome nasi lemak.” -Kent, HUSK Nasi Lemak

Toa Payoh Lorong 5 Bak Chor Mee storefront (F&B)

“This question is a tough one…I’d like to say to please continue helping us by supporting us, letting us know when you enjoy our food, and by sharing about us with friends or family. Not just for us, but for all local small businesses – F&B or not. It helps to keep us going when we hear good things about our products, and it means so much to us when you share about us. Please be safe and responsible too. Lastly, just a big thank you to everyone who’s still here by our side supporting us and encouraging us.” –Chanel, Whisking Bakes

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