In a letter published on The Straits Times (ST) Forum on Tuesday (20 July), titled ‘Restaurant mistaken for pivoted nightlife venue‘, new restaurant owner Goh Tong Hann recounted an incident where the authorities caused great anxiety to his staff when his restaurant was mistaken for a pivoted nightlife establishment and was given less than an hour to shut down on a busy night.
“I opened the restaurant of my dreams in January, jumping at the opportunity because of favourable rent when we took over what was previously an ailing nightclub venue in a prime downtown area,” Mr Goh wrote.
Noting that the past six months have been filled with the expected highs and lows of any new operation on top of other pandemic-related challenges like pivoting to delivery, he explained that the restaurant was recently visited by plain-clothes Singapore Police Force (SPF) officers who told his staff to shut down operation.
According to Mr Goh, this took place on a busy Friday night, and his staff were given less than an hour to comply.
This was “moments after the revised regulations” were released, just a week after the restaurant had revised its dining floor plan to cater to groups of five.
He continued: “We were given less than an hour to do so. When I probed further, I received three responses – ‘Haven’t you seen the new regulations?’, ‘Didn’t SFA (Singapore Food Agency) send you a message?’ and ‘You are on the list that I have’.”
One of the officers then handed them a flier before walking away. The flier, however, was addressed to “nightlife venues that pivoted to F&B establishments”.
As such, Mr Goh decided not to close the restaurant that night since “it was clear that the actions were a result of incorrect information”.
Even so, the officers returned at 10pm to shut the restaurant down.
“No resolution was reached that night,” said Mr Goh.
He continued, “While I fully understood why we might have been put on that list, I expected SFA and SPF to have done their homework before starting their sting operation.
“From an Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority BizFile+ account and bank accounts, to changing the use of the property and having an SFA licence, all our documents were new.
“A simple search would have shown that we were in no way related to the previous occupants of the unit.”
What’s more, Mr Goh asserted that the officers would have been greeted by a large open kitchen in the front of the restaurant, adding that it would have been obvious that the people at the tables were having full meals instead of bar snacks.
“A masquerading nightlife venue we certainly are not,” he stressed.
Mr Goh went on to say that he and his staff endured an “anxiety-riddled 24 hours”, wondering if they should shut down the next day since they could not get ahold of any of the relevant agencies over the weekend.
Eventually, in deciding that the financial burden would be too high to close on a busy Saturday night, the restaurant stayed open.
Fortunately, Mr Goh said that he received a phone call from the police after 8pm that Saturday night, officially permitting them to stay open.
“It has been blow after blow for the food and beverage industry in Singapore, and while I understand that many of the measures taken are necessary, the situation could have been handled better,” he concluded.
Pivoted nightlife venues linked to recent clusters of COVID-19 cases
In response to growing COVID-19 clusters detected at KTV lounges or nightclubs that had pivoted as Food & Beverage (F&B) establishments, the Multi-Ministry Taskforce (MTF) announced on yesterday that it will roll back the country’s control measures to Phase 2 (Heightened Alert).
The cluster was first announced by the Ministry of Health (MOH) on 12 July with three cases linked to it. Just over a week later on 20 July, the number of cases linked to the KTV lounges/clubs cluster spiked to 207.
The alarming rise in cases linked to the cluster raised questions as to how these outlets could even be open given that nightclubs and KTVs have not been permitted to operate under the current COVID-19 regulations since they were shut down back in March 2020.
However, it was noted that in August last year, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) allowed nightlife establishments to pivot to F&B operations as a way to keep going, so long as they adhered to relevant safety measures.
To “pivot”, these establishments would have had to apply for various licenses.
As of May 2021, over 400 nightlife operators had received the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) food shop or snack counter license enabling them to temporarily pivot to F&B operations.
Beyond that, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) grants a one-year temporary conversion for outlets that have pivoted to F&B operations, subject to conditions.