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Restaurants see revenue dropping by a third

Owners expect many customers to shy away from the area over safety concerns

[SINGAPORE] Restaurants in Little India expect to be significantly hit by Sunday night's riot as they think that customers would shy away from the area over safety concerns.

Owners of restaurants there estimate that they could lose as much as a third of their revenue over the next few months as patrons keep a wide berth of the area.

The Indian Restaurants Association Singapore (IRAS), which is made up mainly of restaurateurs in Little India, held an urgent meeting yesterday to discuss the issue and what could be done to mitigate the impact of the riots on their businesses.

Rajmohan, owner of Gandhi Restaurant and secretary of the IRAS, said that Singaporeans and other regular patrons were likely to avoid Little India after what has happened, particularly on Sundays when foreign workers from the Indian sub-continent congregate in the area.

"Many will not want to come here anymore on Sundays because they recognise that there could be problems. All of us will probably lose about 30 per cent of our business," he told The Business Times at the meeting.

BT was invited to the meeting by IRAS president C Sankaranathan, who is CEO of The Banana Leaf Apollo restaurant along Race Course Road, where Sunday night's incident took place.

The restaurateurs said that the root causes of the riot needed to be addressed before confidence could be restored among people who patronise the area.

Harikrishnan Muthusamy, adviser to the IRAS, reckoned that part of the problem lies with these workers congregating in big groups in the area.

The existence of such an enclave can give rise to herd behaviour, he felt, as the actions of one or two individuals may lead others to follow suit.

Others at the meeting felt that their patrons might feel intimidated by the large groups of foreign workers who congregate in the vicinity on Sundays, and the government should look into managing these crowds better.

The proliferation of liquor shops in the area is another problem, said Mr Rajmohan, who believes that the availability of cheap alcohol sold by vendors who open till late makes it easier for the workers to get intoxicated.

This sentiment was echoed yesterday by Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew, who is MP for the ward in the Moulmein-Kallang GRC. Mr Lui said that he had been seeking curbs on alcohol sale there for a while, because he was concerned about the proliferation of liquor licences.

When BT visited the area yesterday afternoon, several groups of foreign workers were consuming large quantities of alcohol in liquor shops and along footpaths.

One of these outlets, Kudai Canteen, a popular watering hole of foreign workers on Sundays, sported a sign saying that consumption of alcohol was prohibited on its premises after 11.45 pm.

Businesses in the area told BT that the alcohol consumption problem is worse on Sundays as the foreign workers tended to drink until the late hours of the night.

One liquor store owner told BT that his business more than trebled on Sundays. "On normal weekdays, I can make slightly less than $1,500 of sales but on Sundays I can easily reach $4,500," said Krishnan Raju of Tasmac Mart on Chander Road.

He added that this was driven by sales to foreign workers and that business was so brisk on Sundays that he has had to turn them away so that he could shut his shop at 11 pm.