Impact of COVID-19: Tiger beer's #SupportOurStreets initiative rallies public support to help local F&B businesses
Nights spent in our favourite eateries feasting on moreish plates with our pals now seem like a distant dream. Whilst we reminisce of what we now dubbed the good ol' days, pandemic hardship goes beyond surface level. The F&B industry is in fact, taking on one of the hardest hits. So much so that restaurant operators in Singapore are anticipating a whopping 80% in revenue loss. Painting a bigger picture of the devastation at hand, a recent survey by Chope stated that COVID-19 has led to 93% of restaurants seeing a drop in revenue and 78% of operators not being equipped to last more than six months, if better changes don't arise.
Here's where Tiger Beer comes in — as one of the many campaigns lobbying support to our local F&B businesses, a #SupportOurStreets initiative across Asia. From local pubs and restaurants to coffee shops and food courts, Tiger is calling out for support from the public. To keep businesses afloat and assist in the recovery process once safe distancing measures are lessened, Tiger is offering up vouchers that are redeemable at your favourite local F&B outlets. How does it work, exactly? Operating until 31 May, customers can make a $10 contribution to Tiger's website and each donation will provide customers with a digital drink voucher that can be redeemed for two Tiger Beers once operations resume. Taking the lead with a $100,000 contribution on their own, Tiger will collate all donations and distribute it to participating F&B outlets.
Each dollar will make the difference between making or breaking a humble business. After all, it's the smaller F&B players that are suffering twice as much, if not more than the bigger names.
To help put a name and face to the small local businesses impacted the most, we spoke with Paul Liew owner of Keng Eng Kee Seafood and Tan Wee Yang owner of Ah Tan Wings to shed light on the changes they have witnessed and what the future entails for small business owners post-COVID-19.
How has COVID-19 impacted your business?
Paul Liew (PL): The first case of COVID-19 in Singapore was confirmed just before Chinese New Year (CNY). We saw signs of a slowdown in sales right after the CNY holidays, and since early March, we have experienced a 60-70% drop in sales.
The health and safety of our employees and customers is of paramount importance to us at Keng Eng Kee Seafood, and we were quick to undertake proactive precautionary measures when it came to our business operations. In February, we provided complimentary sanitised wipes, hand sanitizers were made available to diners, and we had an optimal stockpile of masks for all employees. When the circuit breaker came into effect, we made several arrangements including shorter working hours for employees, therefore reducing their time of exposure outside, and most importantly, allowing time for our foreign employees to make video calls to families whenever needed.
Tan Wee Yang (TWY): Due to the circuit breaker, most office workers are working from home. Hence the number of walk-in customers, who are our primary customers, has reduced drastically.
Operations in the stall have also been impacted quite heavily as we slowly transition towards a delivery focused business model. Despite a dip in business, the workload has increased. I am busier now than ever before as I spend more time and resources on coordinating drivers and customer requests.
What are some of the measures you have had to take to keep your business afloat?
PL: Before the circuit breaker in Singapore, we were observing measures undertaken in other global markets, such as in restaurants in the United States, or nearer to home in Thailand, where only takeaway and delivery was made available. We knew we would have to implement such measures sooner than later.
Specific measures we took to keep business afloat included setting up of island-wide delivery service and effective management of resources and manpower costs, as we retained all full-time employees under our payroll and reduced the usage of part-timers. We also made sure to sustain online engagement with our customers as there have been several enquiries about our delivery service. Lastly, the implementation of designated locations to place orders and facilitate in-store pick-ups by delivery riders was important to ensure safe distancing can take place.
Beyond measures that we took ourselves, we are also lucky there are brands out there like Tiger Beer who support local F&B businesses during these challenging times. Campaigns such as #SupportOurStreets not only generate awareness for the challenges we now face but provide tangible support in the form of cash donations by Tiger Beer and the community.
TWY: I believe that some business is better than no business. This has led me to accept significantly lower margins by subsidising heavily on delivery costs. Delivery costs can go as high as 50% of my total order to accommodate our free island-wide delivery promotion.
Can you describe how the initial shift in customer demand has been like for you?
PL: Our primary business model has been on-site dining, where we can serve 500 to 900 guests throughout a typical dinner service period. But now that customers are encouraged to dine at home, the majority of our orders need to be delivered between 5pm to 7pm. We can no longer serve that many meals along with packing, arranging, and labelling of orders within the limited time frame.
Certain takeaway dishes may not taste the same as when you dine-in. This meant we had to redesign our menu, removing some of our signature dishes such as the pig liver, which may taste differently as a takeaway meal. Also, due to inconsistencies in crab supplies, we replaced our signature mud crab dish with soft shell crabs instead. All these are done to minimize the difference in tastes between takeaway and dine-in food and continue to provide a positive experience to our customers.
TWY: We had witnessed a drop since the start of COVID-19. However, there is now an uptick in customer demand. We are now close to the numbers seen before the pandemic. Our profits are significantly lower as we fulfil the same amount of orders. I am fortunate that staff salaries are covered, and the business is functional.
What are the behavioural changes that you have noticed regarding the local F&B industry?
PL: Before the circuit breaker, most F&B operators, from hawkers to fine-dining restaurants, were focused on the dine-in experience, while delivery service was considered a bonus and not a primary revenue generator. But now, delivery service has become the main source of income for many F&B operators. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, have become primary platforms to broadcast our offerings.
TWY: In general, I think it has brought everybody together. I do see more and more kind souls launching initiatives to support the local F&B businesses. Belanja Eat, an effort that we are involved in gives free meals to the needy. Free marketing platforms like Hawkers United — Dabao 2020 on Facebook enable us to reach out to a broader audience and offer delivery services or discounts.
We also utilise other platforms such as Take.sg, which is a community-driven WhatsApp order form to help small business owners save time to get new orders and focus on cooking instead.
There are also brand initiatives like Tiger Beer's #SupportOurStreets that helps local pubs, restaurants, coffee shops and food courts during these challenging times in the form of cash donations not only from Tiger Beer but from the community too.
I'm also part of a few F&B WhatsApp chat groups which is almost like a support group where we share how we can reach out to customers, organize deliveries and encouraging elderly hawkers to get on board too. It is a giving and sharing cycle, that is not just one way. The F&B industry has received help in the past, and we now look to give back during these hard times.
Apart from ordering from these businesses, how else can the public help to support?
PL: We need the public to come together during these unprecedented times to support and encourage local F&B operators. They can help promote our offers and share with friends and family about some of these local foods they have tried. That's what we like about Tiger Beer's #SupportOurStreets campaign as it encourages the public to support local F&B businesses by making a simple contribution and spreading the word to friends and family. Word-of-mouth is the most effective form of marketing to help businesses stay afloat as consumers trust recommendations from family and friends.
TWY: The public can show support by promoting local F&B businesses in free marketing platforms like Hawkers United — Dabao 2020. Spreading the word about deals and offers will be helpful. They can also consider making a donation with Tiger Beer's #SupportOurStreets initiative.
What do you hope to see in the future for small F&B businesses in Singapore post-COVID-19?
PL: The effects of COVID-19 are expected to last for months, and this could potentially change the entire business model of our food industry. The recent past has also shown that small F&B businesses like us are more vulnerable to such economic disruptions, yet due to our size, we can be nimble in adapting to changes too.
It is in times like these where you see the F&B industry pull together as a community to support each other. From competitors who are coming together to form partnerships, to brands like Tiger Beer supporting local businesses with campaigns, and small businesses themselves making meaningful contributions to society. Seeing these examples of solidarity and resilience in the community instils confidence, and we hope to see the undying spirit of entrepreneurship and empathy continue to thrive well beyond this crisis.
TWY: These tough times have brought the F&B community together, and I would love to see this culture of togetherness continue after COVID-19. I hope that Singaporeans and brands continue to show their support to local F&B businesses beyond COVID-19. As a recipient of Tiger Beer's Tiger Street Food Support Fund, which supports Singapore's street food culture, I feel that brands could continue developing such initiatives to help small F&B businesses. This will notably reduce the impact on our industry during this pandemic and help with recovery.
To contribute to Tiger beer's #SupportOurStreets initiative, simply head to their website and make a $10 donation. Upon donation, you will recieve your own digital drink voucher, redeemable for two beers at participating outlets once they reopen. All donations will be going directly to participating F&B outlets.