Friday, June 18, 2021

Five-star hotel in Kuching turns to street food as Covid measures bite

Pullman Kuching is serving up traditional hawker fare for just RM8 per plate.

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An upscale hotel in Kuching, Sarawak, is putting aside its five-star image to serve food hawker-style from stalls at the side of the road as part of its efforts to stay afloat following the latest in a series of health measures that have taken a heavy toll on the tourism industry.

Pullman Kuching, located at the heart of the Kuching Golden Triangle, is known for its kitchen. Now, instead of filling its restaurants, customers are queueing along the street just outside the hotel, waiting their turn to pack home some of its signature dishes.

And with good cause: most of the items on the menu are going for just RM8.

The hotel’s food and beverage director Fabian Francis Mathews said they were hoping to bring in some revenue as restaurants have effectively been closed with no dine-in allowed since May 12.

“This is a major issue as we have about five restaurants at our hotel which are now closed,” he told MalaysiaNow.

“So we are encouraging the customers to take away our food.”

From hotel restaurant to sidewalk stall, this cook is hard at work turning out burgers for hungry customers.

But judging by the queues, which form for lunch as early as 10.30am, customers need little encouragement.

The chicken rice is especially popular, although other favourites like fried kuey teow, fried rice and mee goreng mamak are served as well. And for dessert, five-star hotel ABC for RM5.

Sarawak, which like many other states has been experiencing a spike in Covid-19 cases, is the only part of the country still under conditional movement control order (CMCO).

However, restrictions still apply, particularly the ban on interstate and interdistrict travel.

Since the hotel must now rely on domestic demand, Fabian said they had been trying their best to retain their staff.

“The hospitality industry and restaurants are facing financial constraints, and many have laid off their workers with some cutting their salaries as well.

“But we are maintaining everything as normal although we have been badly hit by the pandemic. We believe that we are also responsible for our staff’s well-being.”

Hotel staff wait at the ABC stall where bowls of the delicious dessert are sold for RM5.

It is a move that many of their staff appreciate. Ivanna, who has been working at Pullman Kuching for two years now said she was grateful that she had not been let go.

“During these tough times, people are struggling to earn enough to survive, not only to buy food,” she said.

“There are other things that we need to settle every month, like travel expenditure and bank loans.”

Another staff member called Joseph who took on a job as a chef just last month said he was shocked but thankful.

With restrictions set to continue for a while more, Fabian said his team would continue to serve customers through the socially distanced options of takeaway and delivery.

“Given that we responded swiftly in pivoting our business to takeaways and deliveries since last year’s lockdown, we will now enhance our efforts in these two areas to cater to our customers who are working from home,” he said.

This is his advice to those in the food and beverage industry as well.

“Before we resort to laying off staff, we should come up with an alternative idea. We have to get everyone to brainstorm together,” he said.

The stalls, tiny against the bulk of the hotel, are part of efforts to continue serving customers despite the pandemic constraints.

There’s no telling how things will turn out during this CMCO period but Fabian and his team will be at their stall every day from 10am to 10pm, bringing their hospitality from the hotel to the streets.

“The response has been encouraging, and I would recommend that other eateries follow suit,” he said – with permission from the city council, he is quick to add.

“Although our stall is within the hotel premise, we also obtained a permit from the council.”

And, until the pandemic ends, they will ensure that customers continue complying with the SOPs.

“Especially physical distancing and taking their temperature when they arrive at the entrance,” he said.

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