PETALING JAYA: While restaurant owners in the Klang Valley welcome the reinstatement of dining in, this sentiment is somewhat tempered with a mix of cautiousness and in some cases, scepticism.
The move to allow diners who are fully vaccinated to dine in, along with children under 17, beginning yesterday, is viewed carefully by both restaurants and some potential patrons.
This came following Thursday’s announcement by the National Security Council (NSC), which allowed this category of people to dine in at states under Phase One of the National Recovery Plan (NRP), provided Covid-19 protocols are observed by both the eatery and customers.
This relaxation came after more than 50% of the adult population here has now been fully vaccinated, two weeks earlier than the targeted date of Aug 31.
Fully vaccinated parents who wish to take their children who are below 17 years of age to eateries are also allowed to do so, as long as all of them comply with standard operating procedures to curb the risk of Covid-19 transmission, said caretaker Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin on Thursday.
“I think it is a good thing that restaurants are allowed to open for dine-in. We have been requesting for this for a long time, and now it is on the table.
“But the announcement came very suddenly, and my understanding is that the caretaker Prime Minister is only here for a while. So we are questioning whether this decision will still be valid when the new Prime Minister comes in,” said Renyi Chin, co-founder of MyBurgerLab.
“We don’t want to put the effort into reopening, only for things to change again next week,” added Chin.
Abdul Mukthahir M. Ibrahim, the vice-president of Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association (Presma) said the nearly 5,000 members of his association are cautiously optimistic about the announcement.
Like most restaurant owners, Mukthahir said his eagerness is tempered with caution.
“We were pressing the government to allow dine-ins when Covid-19 daily figures were below 10,000. Now approval has been given when Covid-19 cases are at 22,000 a day, so we are confused and not sure whether to fully open or not,” said Mukthahir.
Malaysia-Singapore Coffeeshop Proprietors Association president, Wong Teu Hoon, said the relaxation has to be weighed against the backdrop of record high new Covid-19 cases over the past few days.
“For coffeeshop operators, the implications of having positive cases from their premises outweigh the potential gain from allowing dine-in, and it’s not worth the risk.
“Many are still taking the ‘wait and see’ approach until they are more comfortable accepting dine-in guests,” he said.
Wong, who is also Pan Malaysia Koo Soo Restaurants & Chefs Association president, said that members’ feedback also showed that not many patrons are keen to dine in currently.
Many restaurant owners are also extremely worried about the fact that there is currently no firm requirement in place for eateries to get their staff fully vaccinated before reopening for dine-ins.
“The million-dollar question is, do staff need to be fully vaccinated?” said Jeremy Lim, vice-president of the Restaurant and Bistro Owners Association, which has over 500 members.
“My concern is whether the enforcement officers know this. I don’t want to open my restaurant and then get threatened with summonses,” said Lim.
Mukthahir said many F&B operators have decided to hold off reopening their restaurants until their workers are all fully vaccinated.
“For me, it is a contradiction if customers are vaccinated and workers are not. It just doesn’t make any sense,” he said.
“I have five outlets and I only intend to open them when all my workers have been fully vaccinated.
Chin shares the same views as Mukthahir and will only open his outlets when his staff are fully vaccinated.
“We have heard from F&B friends in Penang and Sabah that people are not coming out to dine-in and have been very cautious. So most of us are waiting for one or two weeks to see what happens,” said Chin.
One restaurant owner who has decided to open all nine of his outlets in the Klang Valley for dine-in yesterday is Original Penang Kayu Nasi Kandar, all staffed by fully vaccinated workers.
It managing director, Burhan Mohamed, said he only saw a trickle of customers.
“It is very, very slow. Everybody eats quickly and leaves in under 15 minutes!” said Burhan, who is also confused about the rules pertaining to customers who are minors.
He actually refused entry to a family who came in with their 17-year-old unvaccinated son.
“I thought only people over 18 who are fully vaccinated are allowed into restaurants. I didn’t know children could come in,” he said, clearly perplexed.
Mukthahir said, “Children are very vulnerable, so I think it is better for parents not to bring them to restaurants.”
Chin agreed, saying “I definitely feel that people bringing their children out are risking their health. We will most likely refuse to admit unvaccinated minors, so we won’t be a family-friendly restaurant for the moment.”