Singapore is just one Asian market improving guidelines on food safety and preparation as the region tackles COVID-19 and looks to understand what the future will bring to hotel F&B.
SINGAPORE—The rise of COVID-19 cases worldwide has led to stricter measures on hotel food-health safety, including in Asian markets that are beginning to end their lockdowns.
Some markets such as Singapore—known for its epicurean cuisine ranging from street fare to gourmet choices—have always been known for strict food-hygiene rules, according to sources. The Singapore Food Agency was formed in April 2019 under the Ministry of the Environment & Water Resources to oversee food safety and security.
The import of livestock and poultry, for instance, are subject to a slew of regulations, with live chickens and ducks permissible from Malaysian farms, while livestock is allowed from approved countries, including Australia, Canada, France, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand and the U.S.
On 7 April, the Singapore government imposed a monthlong “circuit breaker,” a variation of a lockdown, with one of the measures being to prohibit dining in food and beverage outlets. Such outlets are now allowed to operate only for carry-out.
Concerns also exist around food sourcing and delivery, too, sources said.
As a small city state with no natural resources, Singapore imports 90% of its food items, with close neighbor Malaysia supplying key items like chicken, fish and sugar.
Malaysia’s recent Movement Control Order banning Malaysians from leaving the country and preventing visitors from entering does not apply to land deliveries of fresh produce.
Dennis Ng, director of food and beverage at luxury hotel One Farrer Hotel, said his property has had to re-evaluate its food sourcing.
“Inevitably, we still need to bring in supplies from affected regions in China or Europe,” he said. “For now, these are purchased in minimal quantities. We are seeking out alternatives by working closely with suppliers and are also exploring alternatives that do not compromise on the quality of our dishes.”
Restaurants in the region have also reported a trend for customers’ inclination toward a la carte orders and set menus, rather than buffets.
“In general, our guests do not inquire on the origin of products. … Guests may not be comfortable with communal dining considering the risks it poses,” Ng said.
Ng said he has changed and added to his hotel’s set menus.
“Although it increases the workload on our culinary team, it is a necessary measure to ensure that the dishes are served fresh and reduce the probability of contamination,” he added.
Weng Aow, GM of the Angkor Palace Resort & Spa in Siem Reap, Cambodia, said fulfilling guests’ expectations without compromising on quality and relying on reputable food suppliers are critical.
“Our food cost is comparatively more expensive; therefore, cost is a constant concern, (especially) to ensure that our food supplies come from reliable sources,” Aow said.
In the current pandemic situation, Aow and Ng said their new health measures include masks for staff, temperature checks for guests and staff and social distancing.
Ng said diners, too, understand and request social distancing.
Singapore’s STR data from February—when it was already seeing hotel performance declines from COVID-19 set in—shows saw occupancy declined 46.9% to 46.4% year over year and revenue per available room declined 47% to 127.40 Singaporean dollars ($89.56), although average daily rate dropped by only 0.1% to SG$274.82 ($193.19). (STR is the parent company of Hotel News Now.)
Hotels’ stringent measures include constant reminders on personal hygiene, emphasizing the frequent use of sanitizers and hand washing.
According to a poll released in March from the Restaurant Association of Singapore, 57% of restaurants there said they are expecting a revenue loss of more than 50% across the next three months, with those in high tourist traffic areas anticipating an 80% loss.
Ng said he recorded a 50% drop in the earliest days of the outbreak, but now there has been a gradual return of diners.
“Having said that, we should also be wary on how the situation will unfold, especially with new imported cases increasingly prominent in Singapore,” he said. “It is premature to tell whether business will return to full normalcy. Looking at the present trajectory as well as the constant reminders for greater social distancing, we believe it will be a while before that happens.”
With supply chains being affected by global lockdowns and disruptions in transportation, the Singapore Food Agency has launched a SG$30-million ($21.1 million) grant to help local farms ramp up production of eggs, leafy vegetables and fish over the next six to 24 months.
Named the “30x30 Express Grant,” this initiative is intended to meet 30% of the republic’s food needs by 2030 in a move to be more self-reliant. In land-scarce Singapore, this scheme is also helping to identify alternative farming sites such as industrial sites and rooftops of multistory parking garages.
*Correction, 22 April 2020: This story was updated to clarify the headline and Malaysia's Movement Control Order.