Eastern Promises

5 Jun. 2020
For the post lockdown future of bars, look east

Even though lockdown conditions are eased throughout Europe and some bars are reopening, it’s hard at this stage to feel very optimistic. What will tomorrow hold? If we reopen, how do we reopen? Although there will be huge differences between countries — for example, bars have reopened in Switzerland with social distancing measures while some areas in Spain only allow limited outdoor seating at the moment — we can all learn from each other. For obvious reasons, most eyes are turned towards Asia. Those countries were the first to close down and the first to reopen. It’s not their first time dealing with a  pandemic, either. We have asked bars in China and Singapore to tell use about the measures they’re taking and the toll it’s having on their custom. 

Singapore: still closed 
In the City-State, bars were ordered to close in late April, but health and safety measures were in place the weeks before. 
These included temperature check of all staff, suppliers and guests. Hand sanitizers had to be provided to all. No guest allowed without an official tracing app on his or her phone. Mandatory scanning of a QR code to register their visit. Inside the venue, the capacity is limited depending on square footage and stools and table have to be distance from each other minimum 1 meter (distance is marked on the floor). No standing allowed, nor any mingling with other (groups of) guests.

Hong Kong: opened since May 8th
The set of measures is equally extensive. Staff works with face masks and clients are expected to enter the venue wearing their face masks. Paper envelope are made available to store masks while seated. All surfaces are disinfected between guests. Temperature checks and hand sanitizers are de rigueur. The distance between groups of guests (4 guests at the most) is 1,5 meters. No one who has been overseas in the past 14 days is allowed.

What we’ve heard from the (admittedly few) western countries to have announced measures for the hospitality industry broadly follows the same lines, although there are question marks over the use of apps and temperature checks, for civic liberties reason.

But what is the impact on the bottom line of this new normal? How fast do consumers flock back to bars? This is a crucial question, as some businesses may survive lockdown but not the new normal…

What it means exactly in terms of numbers is difficult to assess. At the Singapore outpost of The Old Man, Andrew Yap says the effect of the measures taken before lockdown was a 30% loss of revenue. A lot of bars would actually be quite happy with that. Bastien Ciocca, from Hope & Sesame, told us that the first few days after reopening, they were making 50% of their takings right before the pandemic hit. Unfortunately, this was mostly down to people being very eager to return to bars and once the early enthusiasm was gone, the numbers went south: they’re now operating at 20 / 30%. « We think we will need two to three months to get back to normal ». In Hong Kong, The Old Man’s Agung Prabowo is less sanguine and bases is assessment on what they’ve learned from the March 2002 SARS epidemic. « That time, it took until August for the economy to perk up. This time, we think it will take slightly longer, maybe until the end of the year ».

All agree that a lot will change. « Business will no longer be what it used to be, with crowded venues, people sharing drinks and going out late nights, etc », says Andrew. « Businesses will have to maximize the digital work, doing takeaways, deliveries and using e-commerce platforms to increase your sales. There will be a dip in profitability for sure but this is the time we equip ourselves and learn from the pandemic ». Bastien certainly agrees: at Hope & Sesame, they’ve already sold over 2800 cocktails to go. And they’re hoping this new line of work will make up 20 to 30% of their yearly income. This would certainly help.