Like other restaurants and food outlets across the country, eateries in Sarawak have been operating as a pale shadow of their former selves, opening only for drive-thru, takeaway and delivery as the struggle to rein in Covid-19 infections rages on.
Last week, the state was given the green light to transition to Phase Two of the National Recovery Plan, with the option for dine-in activities allowed from Friday onwards.
But while permission has been given, some restaurant owners are hanging back.
With the dreaded Delta strain already detected in the state, they are of two minds about whether to risk letting customers back in.
At Swee Kang Ais Kacang, a popular dessert cafe in the Kuching city centre, a decision has been made: only takeaways allowed for now.
Chang, who has been working there for 30 years, said the call was made to ensure the safety of employees and customers alike.
While he is disappointed, he said the restaurant could not afford to take risks given the threat posed by the Delta variant.
“Business is very slow nowadays, but we do not want to cause a new outbreak,” he told MalaysiaNow.
“We will only resume dine-in activities when the majority of our people have been vaccinated.”
This is also one of the conditions set for eateries that wish to reopen for dine-ins: only those whose employees have received at least one dose of vaccine will be able to seat customers again.
Winnie, who runs a stall selling Sarawak laksa, agreed that safety comes first.
Speaking to MalaysiaNow, she said she was not convinced if the current situation is safe enough to permit dine-in activities.
At the heart of the city in Jalan Padungan, meanwhile, Nur Fadillah said her eatery was unable to accept dine-in customers yet as not all of the workers had received a vaccine jab.
“Food businesses will only be able to resume dine-ins if all of the workers have been vaccinated,” she said.
“At this shop, there are a few still waiting for their turn for the first jab.”
But while some are hesitant or unable to receive dine-in customers again, others have welcomed them with open – and socially distant – arms.
Fauziah Family Cafe, an outdoor food business located in Metrocity along Jalan Matang, some 5km away from the city, is one of them.
Its owner Naz Ismail said he was able to reopen to dine-in customers as most of his employees and stall operators had received a first jab.
He said allowing diners back in was necessary as business had plunged during the recent lockdown. While revenue still came in from takeaway orders, this was not enough to cover all of his financial commitments.
During the lockdown, he said, sales dropped up to 90%.
“Usually we can generate about RM1,000 per day, but because of the lockdown daily sales fell to RM100.
“I had no choice but to use my own savings to keep my workers by helping them pay their accommodation rent to ease their burden,” he said.
Sapiah Mat Nor, a worker at one of the stalls there, agreed that the business could not survive on takeaways alone.
“We do have online delivery services like FoodPanda and Grab,” she said.
“But customers prefer to dine in.”