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Businesses need the support of local customers now more than ever

Updated: May 3, 2022

SINGAPORE – There's very little I can tell you about the nightlife scene in Singapore. Which probably explains why I write more about food than innovative cocktail bars that, pre-COVID-19, seems to be sprouting up faster than you can order your third Blue Spin for the night. Not that I haven't had friends try to seek out a convivial night about town with me—I don't drink (except for work), I always insist on catching the last train home (because I'm stingy), and I find myself getting inappropriately sleepy as the night goes on (purely age-related).

So when the opportunity to speak to the CEO of Singapore's most recognisable nightlife institution presented itself, I quickly jumped on it. I know nightspots are not yet permitted to resume operation—not until Phase 3 rolls around—and I was curious to know how these establishments, that depend largely on late opening hours and alcohol sales, are coping. Just last month, Teo Heng Karaoke was forced to shutter half of their outlets islandwide while more recently, it has been reported that Manekineko was considering the same.

In an email interview, I asked Nasen Thiagarajan, CEO of Harry's Bar, to share his thoughts on the sustainability of nightlife establishments, the biggest change Harry's had to undertake to remain afloat, and what other operators in a similar industry can do right now to combat the uncertainty of a COVID-19 world.

What do you remember of your initial reaction when you received official news from the government that dining-in at restaurants and F&B establishments were to be immediately ceased?

Prior to Circuit Breaker, Harry’s already suffered a drop in footfall and we were preparing for the worst. When dine-in restriction was introduced, we knew we had to tighten safety measures while taking immediate actions to shift our focus to the digital arena as we expected a change in consumer demand due to the evolving situation. The introduction of our island-wide delivery and takeaway menu meant that we needed to adjust our manpower accordingly to align with the new business strategy.

While our delivery and takeaway sales during the circuit breaker improved by some 400% compared to pre-COVID, the overall revenue during the circuit breaker was only 5% of our pre-COVID dine-in sales which had a big impact on our P&L and cash flow.

What has been the biggest challenge faced by the nightlife entertainment industry that consumers are mostly unaware of?