Restaurants still cautious on dine-in permission

The challenge is to rebalance between the safety of employees and customers, as well as sustaining business ops

by NURUL SUHAIDI / pic by TMR FILE

AFTER more than two weeks, many restaurants still insist on operating by allowing only takeaway and delivery services, rather than dine-in, to avoid any possible health and legal matters.

Given the still high new Covid-19 daily cases, the public and businesses remain wary, with a lot of apprehension lingering among the customers and businesses alike.

“When the government announced the decision to allow dining in, it was bittersweet because not all businesses are able to act immediately,” Anabelle Co-Martinent, co-founder and director of La Juiceria Superfoods told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

“I recently posted a reaction survey in my LinkedIn account and the majority voted that ‘it’s still too soon to dine-in’,” she said.

The government had announced that vaccinated persons are allowed to dine-in from Aug 20.

Owners of eatery premises must ensure that those entering the premises for dine-in must show a Covid-19 digital certificate as proof that the individual has completed his/ her vaccination.

The Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association president Datuk Jawahar Ali Taib Khan said it is up to the restaurant owners to decide whether to allow dine-in.

“The readiness is subject to the outlet’s ability to handle and manage. If they are all equipped, they may proceed. In this regard, we let the businesses decide for themselves,” he told TMR.

The challenge is to rebalance between the safety of employees and customers, as well as sustaining business operations.

Nonetheless, Anabelle believes that the high vaccination rate in the country should provide some relief for business operations.

“Relying solely on takeaway clearly won’t be enough to sustain the business at this point in time,” she added.

However, opening for dining in comes with risks such as temporary closure and additional costs, such as for cleaning and sanitation in the event that positive cases are detected again on the premises.

Therefore, restaurants need to ensure their team is prepared and aware of the risk before opening the door to the public.

“For us, we choose not to rush to reopen, especially since the cases are not really going down. We also need to identify which location and branches are safe to open.

“We must consider the mental stress that may be experienced by not only our employees, but also their families in case that their family members are infected at work since every outlet should place a worker at the entrance before allowing anyone in,” she added.

Hence, it is important to get both customers and workers vaccinated first.

“No business wants to hold back their operation if the situation allows them to operate safely. Those who decide to rather wait first are commendable because they are putting safety (above) revenue and profit,” she said.

Another main challenge is to ensure there will be no abuse in terms of vaccination status. The restaurant needs to be consistent and strict with the dine-in regulations.

“In pre-pandemic times there was no thought of this because the restaurants were first designed to serve the dine-in customers,” Anabelle said.

All of its three brands, La Juiceria Superfoods, Super Saigon and Hawker Hall with 17 outlets, are still opting for takeaway and delivery as of Sept 2.

Many businesses are also hesitant because of the uncertainty in government policy, which might change in a short period of time.

“If the government issues new regulations, it will take time for the authorities and business owners to comprehend the new SOPs (standard operating procedures) before we can apply them to our business premises.

“It’s safe to say that businesses, including ours, are gearing up and preparing for that, so that when we’re ready, we can open in stages,” she commented.

Jawahar Ali added that many businesses do not take the SOPs lightly to avoid painful, if not costly, lessons in the past.

“I believe Malaysians who have learned from this pandemic will follow the tight SOPs as it will be beneficial for both restaurant owners and customers,” he said.