The impact of COVID-19 around the globe is symbolic in the empty chairs of once-bustling dining establishments. Countless restaurants are having to temporarily suspend their dine-in services to support lockdowns and social distancing drives.
In Singapore, restaurants such as Santa Fe Tex-Mex Grill have explored alternative ways to keep business going. Situated in its new location just a stone’s throw away from the iconic Raffles Hotel and the busy Bugis Junction, Santa Fe has been serving authentic Texan-Mexican favourites and American classics to Singaporean diners since 1999.
We connected with Daryl Saw, CEO of Santa Fe, and talked about how he and his team have adapted to the business challenges by expanding their delivery operations and how Sapaad helped them effortlessly set up their own online ordering channel.
“When people started working from home, we knew that we had to expand our delivery operations to stay profitable.”
Singapore was one of the first countries affected by COVID-19 and it quickly imposed containment measures to combat the spread. “The containment measures were introduced in stages and it gave us ample time to respond and adapt our operations,” says Daryl.
The first measure placed a ban on large events and Santa Fe quickly reacted by focusing on small-scale gatherings like birthdays and networking events. “The dine-in crowd was already dwindling because people were hesitant to eat out so pivoting to small-scale events kept our revenue healthy for a while.”
In early April, Singapore announced a ‘circuit breaker’ in an effort to further contain the outbreak, allowing only essential services to continue to operate. The move shifted a bulk of the Singaporean workforce — the main group of Santa Fe’s dine-in customers — to work remotely from home.
“Our restaurant is located in Bugis, which is a semi-central business district. So when people started working from home, we knew that we had to expand our delivery operations to stay profitable,” Daryl remarked.
“It was definitely a challenge but my team is committed to doing their best to adapt to the situation.”
As an independent restaurant, Santa Fe’s delivery areas prior to the pandemic were restricted to within a few kilometres from its location. When the circuit breaker was announced, Daryl and his team took on the challenge to deliver islandwide. He acknowledged that the successful transition was the result of a collaborative effort. “It was definitely a challenge but my team is committed to doing their best to adapt to the situation.
“My restaurant manager is not Singaporean but he took on the role of coordinating and dispatching deliveries despite his limited knowledge of the districts. He ended up learning more about Singapore in the past month than he did in the last ten years.”
His kitchen staff worked in parallel to synchronize their cooking times, making sure that all of an order’s components — appetizers, mains, and desserts — were prepared in unison, packed up, and ready to go.
Daryl’s family also lent a helping hand. Along with his parents and younger sister, they became the restaurant’s delivery personnel, delivering orders door-to-door with their vehicles.
While their new delivery strategy was shaping up, Daryl started on Santa Fe’s own online ordering platform. “As soon as we decided to venture into food delivery, I went to my Sapaad account and enabled Sapaad.Online with one click.”
“The setup process [of Sapaad.Online] was very easy to follow. I was able to get our online page up and running in less than three days.”
Complete with a beautiful web and mobile ordering experience, brilliant checkout, online payments, and order tracking, Sapaad.Online is fully-integrated with Sapaad Cloud POS. With this module in place, Daryl can sync Santa Fe’s menu from Sapaad to their website for customers to order from and can manage orders from placement to delivery straight from Sapaad.
“The setup process was very easy to follow and the few challenges we faced were swiftly addressed by Sapaad’s remarkable support team”, he reported. “I was able to get our online page set up and running in less than three days.”
He adds, “We especially love the loud, clear, and timely alerts whenever new orders are placed. We tested the system ourselves by placing a few orders and found that the time elapsed between order placement and notification was almost immediate. And that prominent bell tone is indeed the sound of joy.”
Countless other F&B establishments are in the same boat as Santa Fe, needing to quickly adapt to the changing business environment. For fellow restaurants, Daryl shares a few key points to help with business continuity. “Firstly, don’t cut corners or make excuses. Operating differently is no reason to churn out mediocre food or haphazard service.”
He also mentions being open to change, adding, “You never know what the reward will be. For instance, as a 35-seater restaurant, we would have been content with a full house of dine-in guests for Mother’s Day. But this year, we managed to serve more than a hundred orders. We were able to achieve a record-breaker — in the middle of a circuit breaker.”
As parting advice, Daryl maintained the importance of hard work. “If you’re not tired at the end of the day, you’re not in the F&B industry.”
“We were able to achieve a record-breaker — in the middle of a circuit breaker.”
We asked Daryl how diners could help their favourite restaurants during this period. “There are many ways customers can help,” he explained. “Order from us — either through phone or online. No matter what, the extra sales are always welcome.”
Daryl also encourages diners to spread the news of their favourite restaurants through their social media accounts. “Word of mouth is still the most powerful marketing tool,” he confided, “A recommendation is worth ten times more than an advertisement. Every post, share, like, and comment counts.”
He also reveals that simple words of encouragement, such as “Thank you, I enjoyed the food,” goes a long way and means a lot to his team, whether on a public platform or through a personal WhatsApp message.
“Word of mouth is still the most powerful marketing tool. A recommendation is worth ten times more than an advertisement. Every post, share, like, and comment counts.”
Shifting to online and delivery was a strategic decision for Daryl to ensure business continuity. Through a collaborative team effort, Santa Fe Tex-Mex Grill continues to operate and serve its community.
And with it came a pleasant surprise: while maintaining social distancing, Daryl and his team are still able to form relationships with new customers. “Truly, we have met many, many beautiful people since we’ve started delivering house-to-house.”
The global COVID-19 crisis brought on many challenges to businesses worldwide. With the F&B sector among the hardest hit, it left several restaurants scrambling to adapt.
We connected with our global Sapaad community to share the innovative ways they’ve ensured business continuity in the time of a pandemic. By pivoting their restaurant operations, they continue to stay resilient and serve their local communities.