She was making over 10 million baht per month in revenue; the number dropped by 95% during the three months of lockdown. She employed some 150 staff, almost 30% have been let go. The salaries of managers have been cut by a minimum of 30%.
Jacqueline Sim is the Managing Director of Venture Food & Restaurants, the company which owns nine F&B outlets and one catering business in Bangkok.
You might have dined at one of her Chinese restaurants, Ping’s Asoke, Ping’s Pathumwan, Ping’s Hot Pot, and Meng Kee, or her Japanese restaurant, Tatsumi. You might have drunk at one of her bars, Find The Locker Room, Find The Photo Booth Bar, Score Bar, and 8 on Eleven.
Jacqueline is 37 years old, a Singaporean who has been living in Bangkok for over a decade. She and her father started the businesses. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Jacqueline temporarily closed all her venues, except for Ping’s Asoke. She kept it open to make whatever money she could from the delivery business.
As the pandemic subsides and the government eases restrictions, Jacqueline is slowly getting back to business. She plans to open the door of almost all her outlets by early August.
Did the delivery model work well for you?
We had to quickly change our method from a catering restaurant to a delivery model. This was tricky because Ping’s Asoke is a traditional Thai-Chinese restaurant, and most of our previous income was dine-in, only less than 5% was delivery. And then 100% had to be from delivery. It’s not like we were some pizza shops that would already have a lot of delivery.
On top of that, we started three pro-delivery brands, Oh Jackie!, Powerpuff and we turned Meng Kee into delivery.
Oh Jackie! and Powerpuff help sustain the staff from Venture Food & Restaurant catering business, which previously was catering Singaporean food in airport lounges and other tourist-heavy businesses. And these two brands do authentic Singaporean food that not only provided comfort to my heart, but also to other Singaporeans stranded in Bangkok who couldn’t go home.
Aside from “comfort,” were they able to generate real revenue?
Yes, for sure. We are bringing some income. Quick cash flow was our strategy, and that helped pay the salary as we were trying our best to take care of our employees. So whatever income we had helped.
If I weren’t doing delivery at all, I would be receiving zero income. Anything is better than zero. Making a profit was not on the card, and the main goal was to get through this situation. By opening these delivery brands, I could provide for the staff and keep them employed, so it was a win-win.
What other strategies did you have?
We are F&B, so delivery was the only thing we could do. But we chose Singaporean food because I’m Singaporean, and there are other Singaporeans stranded in town.
We also try to cut costs by doing our own delivery. Even though the customers could order via other delivery apps, they were willing to order via us directly, even if it’s a bit inconvenient for the customers. That helped us save a bit.
How are the bars doing, since they are now opened?
We were just happy to reopen because the bars suffered the most, having been shut down right at the beginning of COVID-19 situation, so that’s over three months of no business. There was a pent-up demand because people were not able to go out and drink in bars, and they obviously missed going out to drink in bar ambiances.
The bars still need to close at midnight, and that’s supposed to be our peak time [when closing time was 2am before the lockdown], on top of the social distancing. So that’s still challenging as the venues cannot be as packed as before.
The bars are back at about 30-40% of our usual business, so based on that kind of figure, we’d still need to cover our overheads with our personal savings.
So what are you doing now?
The Pathumwan outlets — Ping’s Pathumwan, Ping’s Hot Pot, and Tatsumi — are opening next week. We are doing a little bit of renovation and rebranding to see how we can cater to a new audience. While our businesses are popular among locals, half of our customers were tourists, so we are working on adjusting our menus to be more appealing to locals.
What’s the strategy for full recovery?
I am taking the lessons learned during Covid-19 to reconfigure and adapt the business and operating models for a new reality and also moving from response to recovery. We have had to first respond with quick and immediate fixes to stop the bleeding and ensure the running of essential business functions when the pandemic first hit. And subsequently, we had to see how we can recover by rescaling or reinventing some of our outlets to make it relevant, cutting down or even retiring some businesses.
It seems the new reality is people preferring to dine at home, right?
Food delivery is part of the new normal and caters to those who prefer to dine at home during this period. We are exploring how to help our dishes travel better by packing them better and having our own delivery team so that our food can arrive in the best possible state.
However, the dine-in experience is something that customers continue to enjoy, and we want to make that as safe as possible for our customers and all our staff. We do that by ensuring the highest standard of sanitation and cleanliness in our restaurants and communicating that to our customers so that they can dine comfortably and with the peace of mind knowing that they are safe.
What’s the most valuable lesson going forward?
COVID-19 provided us with an opportunity to pause, reflect, and to come back stronger than before. It allowed the team to take a break and come back with more creativity and energy. We had had many customers requesting delivery and wanting to find out when we were going to be open, and it allowed us to talk to them and learn more about what they love about our restaurant. This provided us with new inspirations on how we can serve them better.
In addition, the idea is to protect our people and business from a second, third wave, or a prolonged crisis. We are reviewing internal processes, communication, and organization so that we can be better prepared and able to respond quickly to any new events that may inevitably arise.