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Business Was Not Great During MCO, So These 2 Restaurant Owners Took The Chance To Refresh & Reinvent

Business Was Not Great During MCO, So These 2 Restaurant Owners Took The Chance To Refresh & Reinvent

Those who can adapt and innovate are usually the ones who can overcome hard times like these.

The Covid-19 pandemic hit Malaysian businesses hard, with the Association of Chartered Accountants (ACCA) finding that as many as 49% of them may close in 12 months. Many of these business owners were not prepared, citing cash flow and the lack of a business continuity plan as main reasons for the struggle. 

While those in the retail industry have the option to mitigate and shift to e-commerce, the same cannot be said for the food and beverage sector. Engaging a delivery service provider and going online may not always be the best solution due to cost and accessibility issues. 

In short, it really is a matter of survival of the fittest – those who can adapt and innovate are usually the ones who can overcome hard times like these. Here are two restaurant owners who used the Movement Control Order (MCO) period to upskill and reinvent their businesses:

Not everyone is comfortable with food delivery services during MCO

Pallets & Pans in Damansara Jaya was still operating during the MCO, but only for delivery and takeaway. Understanding that people may be more cautious with their spending during those times, Executive Chef Randall Chen introduced economical family meals into his restaurant’s menu. 

He shared that most of his customers are families, who are more cautious on where they order food from – and even who is the one delivering the food. “I found out that customers also do not feel comfortable having their food delivered by third-party delivery services, so I had to get my own staff to do deliveries,” Chef Randall shared. 

When dine-ins were finally allowed for F&B outlets in Selangor, Chef Randall sent his staff for screening tests and even trained them on different ways to serve food. This way, customers will feel more comfortable dining at his restaurant, knowing that their food was prepared and served with best hygiene practices. 

The first week of opening was not just rewarding, but came with surprises as well. Not only was business better than expected, Chef Randall saw some “long lost customers” revisiting his restaurant as well. He attributed to the trust he has built with his customers over the years.

I learned that in times like these, people prefer to dine or order from restaurants that they trust. I am happy that I have customers who trust me and enjoy the food I serve.

Executive Chef of Pallets & Pans Randall Chen to TRP

As the situation in Malaysia improves, Chef Randall hopes that the government will continue to review the seating capacity in restaurants as well as allowing bar activities like live bands and pool to resume. 

“Families come to the restaurant together in one car, and they would like to sit together. I only want my customers to be able to dine and enjoy their meal comfortably,” he shared.

Pallets & Pans’ signature Johor laksa with siu yuk (roasted pork).
(Credit: TRP)

MCO is also the time when you work on things within your “circle of influence”

It is worth noting that NYC Dining in Bandar Utama would look slightly different to anyone who has not visited it since earlier this year. This is because its new co-owner, Lee, is in the midst of transforming the concept of the restaurant: from the decor, to its menu, and even the staff’s working style. 

What is more impressive is that Lee implemented these changes during the MCO. “I intend to run this restaurant as a place to serve the community, so I have changed it to a family dining concept restaurant,” he explained. 

Despite experiencing a huge drop in business due to the MCO, he decided to still pay his staff their full salaries in March. Moved by Lee’s decision, his staff then offered to have their salaries subsidised so they could all help sustain the restaurant’s business. It was also during this time that Lee and the NYC Dining team started a charity drive to donate meals to underprivileged communities in the Klang Valley. 

During MCO I have my “circle of concern” and “circle of influence”: the former refers to things I should be concerned of but are beyond my control; the latter refers to things that I can control. I chose to focus on my “circle of influence” and used the MCO period to transform the restaurant.

Co-Owner of NYC Dining Lee to TRP

Firstly, Lee used the MCO period to give the restaurant a thorough cleaning. He also changed the menu to offer wholesome food, and gave the staff a refresher course on basic restaurant services. His team was very supportive of these, and worked together with him to improve their restaurant.

The team’s hard work was paid off when they reopened for dine-ins, with customers enjoying their meals and leaving compliments for Lee and his team. Though he has not fully transformed the restaurant to its new concept, he could already see some of his efforts bearing fruit. Throughout our talk, we saw the co-owner greeting and interacting with customers like they were old friends. 

But Lee is not resting his laurels just yet – he shared with us some new dishes and concepts that he wants to add to the menu. He is also gathering feedback from customers to see how he can further improve the restaurant’s offerings as part of his ongoing transformation works.

One of the new menu items Lee is experimenting with – cocktail pods.
(Credit: TRP)

When asked about what he expects in the near future for the F&B industry, he said, “We will have to wait for 31 August to know what are the next steps. Most importantly, I want my customers to feel happy and comfortable dining here.” 

The main takeaway for all businesses – listen to your customers

Based on our conversations with both restaurant owners, we found that they all followed one age-old adage: always listen to your customers. 

That was how Chef Randall realised that he needed a new menu and in-house delivery service, albeit for the short term; whereas Lee continues to reinvent his restaurant by continuously working based on customers’ feedback. 

With the MCO currently in the recovery phase and all restaurants being allowed to operate, we do hope the situation improves for the F&B industry and all Malaysian businesses.

This piece would not be possible without the insights from Chef Randall Chen from Pallets and Pans and Mr. Lee from NYC Dining. TRP would like to thank them for sharing their stories with us, and wish them their restaurants success.

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