The lockdown has inevitably hit us hard. Being a very dominant customer-facing industry, the prolonged time spent away from our customers has been extremely tough. Every industry is affected, every single Malaysian is impacted one way or another, be it mentally, emotionally or financially.
The Food & Beverage (F&B) Associations estimate that at least 60% of the F&B operators were hibernating during the third Movement Control Order (MCO 3.0) lockdown and almost every F&B operator had less than two months of cash reserves.
The remaining 40% that were operating during this lockdown couldn’t even make ends meet from food deliveries and take-aways.
Before the latest current MCO 3.0 lockdown, F&B businesses were already picking up. There were incremental sales of up to 80% for some outlets. And, even though it was not back to the pre-Covid lockdown period, it was a sign of strong recovery nonetheless.
However, as new cases began spiralling out of control once again, the impact of the sudden lockdown back in May 2021 was an unwelcome one as many saw savings drying up, not helped either by limited support from the Government while landlords too were unable to extend a helping hand as they found themselves in equally tight spots.
This has caused tremendous irreversible damage to every stakeholder of the business community as well as the masses and goes to show how strict adherence to Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) is vital, as we continue to battle this pandemic and emerge into a sustainable reopening of the economy.
Business veterans have not been spared from the consequences of the MCO 3.0 either, whether they helm large or smaller scale businesses.
Take the SOULed OUT Group for instance, in which we have a staff force of about 400 pax and our main focus right from the start has been how to sustain each and everyone despite our greatly reduced income. We have been blessed with a very understanding team which has always placed their trust in us, as we do in them.
Our mantra is “Ohana” which means family, and family means nobody gets left behind or are forgotten! In fact, with this pandemic, the family spirit has shone even brighter than ever.
On the business front, there is no one-size-fits-all approach either. Thus, each business — depending on size, scale and cost base, will take a different approach when combating this pandemic and lockdown.
In fact, the bigger operators would probably close or place on hibernation mode some of the underperforming outlets.
The smaller players now are roughing it out and trying their hand at relying on deliveries to survive. This has been a very tough lesson to learn, but an extremely important one – something my parents – Fred Liew and Michele Kwok have also taught me through the years: Always save for a rainy day. And boy oh boy, has it been pouring lately!
The F&B sector will certainly take a while before things resume to normal. And, other forms ofrevenue are needed. Therefore, new innovations such as Do-It-Yourself (DIY) cooking kits are a no-brainer for restaurants because there is a need to do everything that we can to ensure that we have enough to sustain the operations during these tough times.
Financial support always helps. However, what we need to figure out is how we can reopen the F&B sector safely and sustainably for the long-term so businesses can start generating income.
Thus, communications and transparency are critical elements. And, this is a time for all parties, relevant authorities and the F&B industry stakeholders to come together to act as one.
Mutual support and assistance are needed, be it by way of tax relief, deferment of tax payments, interest-free moratorium on loans or any other form of relief, to combat this crisis together in order to keep the industry and businesses afloat and to avert a potential loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs in the F&B industry.
There are also so many learnings that the Government can get from neighbouring countries or European Union (EU) countries. F&B operators do not understand why we do not model the best practices and pilot it in a controlled environment. Although, we are almost 18 months in, we are still approaching the pandemic like it just arrived yesterday.
F&B is key to a long supply chain which is vital for the Government to recognise and act on. If the outlets are closed, landlords will have more empty space while local farmers will have to downsize and subsequently, this will result in a collapse of the F&B industry and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SME).
Thus, we need to act collectively and act fast in an effort to lessen casualties from this crisis.