Vaccine, Testing Requirement for Restaurants Dies, But Profits Still Will Be Hard to Find

No Booze, 8 p.m. closing, capacity limits means tough times to continue for restaurants, with vaccine looming on horizon

The Thai Restaurant Association predicted that Wednesday’s reopening of restaurants for dine-in service will allow eateries to recover half of their normal income.

Actual restaurant owners aren’t so sure.

While the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration has backed down on the requirement that restaurants in the 28 “deep-red” coronavirus maximum and strict control zones require both staff and customers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus and undergo regular testing, there are still many hurdles to profitability.

For starters, restaurants can’t sell alcohol. For English, Irish and sports pubs aimed at expats, as much as 80 percent of normal revenue comes from booze. The slim margins and low demand for food in foreigner-centric eateries means many places won’t reopen even though they can.

Then there’s the capacity and time limits. All venues must close by 8 p.m. so that staff and customers can get home by the 9 p.m. curfew. That means evening sports are off the table, a major factor why expats go out.

Restaurants also will be limited to 50 percent capacity if they are air-conditioned or 75 percent if they are not or are open-air.

Foreigner-centric restaurants and sports pubs that rely on alcohol sales may not even bother to reopen.
Foreigner-centric restaurants and sports pubs that rely on alcohol sales may not even bother to reopen.

Had the CCSA insisted on its announced policy of requiring all restaurant staff to be fully vaccinated and undergo weekly testing – and require customers to be either vaccinated or have proof of a recent negative Covid-19 test – most restaurateurs would have just remained closed.

The cost of the testing could have totaled more than revenue and the number of customers who actually qualified to eat out would have been tiny. Thailand has only fully vaccinated 10 percent of its population.

But when Bangkok’s governor Monday night outright defied the CCSA – saying neither testing nor vaccines would be required for restaurants to reopen – the entire scheme collapsed. The CCSA late Monday backpedaled, calling its policy only a “pilot program” that would not be enforced.

Instead, through all of September, restaurants will be encouraged to get their employees vaccinated and test them. At the same time, operators could set up processes to enforce the eventual “green card” for vaccinated patrons and “yellow card” for recently tested guests.

The restaurant association urged the government to provide Covid-19 vaccines to Thai and migrant workers in the restaurant business as soon as possible.

Although the Public Health Ministry has allowed the public to register for shots equally, many migrant workers and some Thai workers in different sectors are not able to access the registration process due to various factors.

Only 200,000 workers in the restaurant business are insured under Section 33 of the Social Security Act, while many other workers are not registered.

Therefore, the TRA has encouraged restaurant workers to register for vaccinations; the information will be submitted to the ministry, so as to allocate more doses of vaccine to meet the demand.

Bangkok-Thailand-Restaurants-Covid-19-Coronavirus-Restrictions-Capacity-Limits

It’s easy to write off as “stupid” the CCSA’s policy that staff and customers be vaccinated, but it’s more likely than not vaccine passports will be required eventually – once the government can do what it should have done a year ago and procure enough vaccines.

In the meantime, association President Thaniwan Koonmongkon said Monday, the CCSA’s decision to relax disease-control measures, particularly allowing resumption of dine-in service, surpassed the group’s expectations.

Allowing outdoor and non-air conditioned venues to fill 70 percent of their seats was a surprise, although the 50 percent limit on indoor/air-conditioned dining rooms wasn’t.

Starting Sept. 1, sales should increase from the current 20 percent of normal to at least 50 percent, helping businesses survive, Thaniwan said.

Thailand’s restaurant business normally generates 1.4 billion baht a day. Once the sales volume reaches 50 percent, or about 700 million baht a day, restaurants will be injecting 21 billion baht into the economy a month, she estimated.

The National News Bureau of Thailand contributed to this report.