In a three-part series, Business Today Malaysia explores the struggles and challenges the country’s F&B industry is currently going through amid the ongoing pandemic.
In the second installment of the series, Business Today Malaysia speaks to Sharina Aidid, Managing Director of Playte, a contemporary dining outlet on and CK Kho, bar keeper of Coley Cocktail Bars on the changes they have had to opt to, to ensure smooth sailing in turbulent times.
By Poovenraj Kanagaraj
The food and beverage industry is among the many that had faced the brunt of the pandemic. Lockdowns left many in the sector to opt for delivery services, forcing those in the contemporary dining segments and bars to alter strategic directions to stay afloat.
With Putrajaya easing regulations and allowing for restaurants to open their doors to customers, as long as the necessary SOPs are in place, one might wonder if things have returned to any semblance of normality for the competitive industry.
“There is a lot of uncertainty and a waiver of confidence among people when it comes to dining in. People are still not very confident,” Sharina tells Business Today. Despite the decline in daily new cases, the fear to be out and about is been well-cemented among Malaysians.
As a contemporary dining outlet, Playte faces more than just the usual challenges a F&B outlet would during these uncertain times. The dining outlet which used to be able to cater up to 36 pax at full capacity, now is only able to fill up 4 tables, with one group of two and three groups of four.
“We have counter-seats as well and the SOP requires us to leave a gap between seats. It is not what it used to be,” she says.
The restaurant which opened its doors for the first time last August, have had a taste on what busier times could be like. Evenings prior to the outbreak used to be brimming with life.
“We have no idea how long the current sentiment would continue on. We wanted to bring in something new to the food industry. We wanted to offer local flavours with new techniques.”
Playte’s menu, according to Sharina, can be quite seasonal. “We strive to offer new experiences to our customers,” she says. However, with the implementation of the Movement Restriction Order on March 18, the contemporary dining player have had to opt for some changes in terms of strategic direction for the future of the dining.
“We were forced to do deliveries and takeaways. With all these uncertainty, people prefer to order more comfort food. They are not very keen on being adventurous,” Sharina highlighted.
“It is no longer about the experience, it’s about the financials now.” As Playte makes the necessary amendments to its menu to better suit the delivery demand, Sharina says they are keen on keeping some of the contemporary dining’s trait in the newly adjusted menu.
“Changing our menu has been a very challenging process. We are slowly going through the process in stages and hopefully we will be able to come out stronger.”
While times have been hard for the restaurant, Sharina expresses relief in the financial aid that was provided by the government.
“We are a small company so it does help us out to an extent. We just have to work extra hard to keep the business going and while we have recorded losses, fortunately we have good owners of the place that have helped us out as well,” she tells Business Today.
As for Coley Cocktail Bar, located in Bangsar, bar keeper, CK Kho says the bar has opted for cocktail deliveries in order to stay afloat.
The bar, which was among Asia’s 50 Best Bar 2020, saw zero income during the first and second phase of the MCO leading to opt for cocktail deliveries and gift vouchers.
Despite restaurants having been allowed to open up for dine-ins, bars on the other hand have been ordered to stay closed.
“I am not sure how long this new normal last or it’s even going to be a permanent fixture of the industry. With capacity cut by half, our seating arrangements are very much similar to restaurants as well,” he tells Business Today.
With a more optimistic take, Kho says the new normal have made the drinking experience more personalised, to a certain extent, even more intimate. “I think there will be more drinking at home or even private drinking sessions after this. The MCO has actually helped to open up a market for cocktail deliveries,” he says.
He also points out to changes in consumer spending behaviors, resonating a similar tone to Sharina’s where consumers are no longer leaning towards luxury spending.
“I don’t think the drinking scene will ever be the same again,” Kho opines.