When she turned 37 last Tuesday – the same day circuit breaker measures kicked in – communications executive Denise Li celebrated at home with her family.
While she could not clink glasses with friends, they had cocktails from one of the bars she frequents, The Secret Mermaid, delivered to her home, so she could still have a drink on her special day.
In these times, when bars are closed and people are told to stay home, cocktails bars are taking their concoctions to homes.
Most offer same-day, islandwide deliveries of cocktails in bottles or vacuum-sealed bags. In some cases, the drinks come with garnishes.
One of the early movers was The Secret Mermaid, a six-year-old bar in Ocean Financial Centre, which had its delivery services up and running by March 30.
Bar manager Kelly D’Cruz, 28, says the team had been keeping tabs on the developments in other countries that imposed lockdown measures earlier than Singapore.
“Hearing from the bar communities there, as well as friends who were going stir-crazy in their homes, we saw that people wanted to still have a semblance of their regular social life. And for many, the idea of socialising and relaxing is with a cocktail,” she says.
“Hence, we wanted to be ready to deliver that experience and be a source of comfort during the circuit breaker period.”
To recreate the experience of having freshly made cocktails, Ms D’Cruz says all orders are prepared on the spot as close to the delivery time as possible, to be consumed on the day of production, and labelled as such.
It seems to be catching on. The bar is now getting an average of 20 orders a day, up from six a day when its delivery services first launched.
Customers are willing to spend. She says: “What’s interesting is the spending is high an order, much more than the average bar tab.”
Native in Amoy Street is also seeing around 20 orders a day. Currently ranked 12th on the World’s 50 Best Bars List, it is best known for championing local and regional spirits and ingredients.
Co-founder Vijay Mudaliar, who heads out on delivery runs himself, says: “(Offering home delivery) allows us to stay in touch with the customers and continue to convey Native’s (branding).”
The bar has also seen an uptick in customers outside its immediate circle of friends, family and regulars, though business has taken a hit of 70 to 80 per cent since stricter social distancing measures kicked in.
But Mr Mudaliar, 31, admits that the rising number of local coronavirus cases meant that it was “getting too dangerous to operate, both for my staff and for customers”.
While many players see cocktail deliveries as a stop-gap measure, especially those which are independent bars without the backing of hotel chains or investors with deep pockets, they agree this is not a long-term or sustainable solution.
“It helps because it generates some income and keeps our team together, but it is definitely not sustainable as a long-term option,” says Ms D’Cruz.
Mr Mudaliar adds: “We can’t break even and, whether it helps us cut the losses, we will have to wait and see.”
New players like No Sleep Club in Keong Saik Road, which has been open all of six months, are determined to make it work with the current situation.
Co-founder Juan Yijun, 35, says: “Now that every venue is on the same platform, you can no longer lean on location, ambience or hospitality like we know it. So we are constantly thinking of ways to separate ourselves (from the crowd) to add value to an order.”
The all-day bar has rolled out 750ml bottled cocktails and is adapting its coffee and food menu for delivery.
As a smaller and owner-operator business, Ms Juan feels it can tweak operations easily when the situation calls for it.
“We also adapted based on customer requests, packaging even the doughnut milk we used in our doughnut lattes when someone asked for it. During this time, our approach is to say ‘yes’ to almost anything,” she adds.
Customers like recent birthday girl Ms Li are also learning to adjust.
While drinking at home is not the same as going to a bar – “which is an experience in itself, with the music, ambience and the social aspect of it” – it is the new normal for now.
“Drinking martinis out of a non-martini glass feels strange, but I’m still happy to make do with cocktails out of a bag during this circuit breaker period,” she says.
“It’s still the best way to wind down on a Friday evening.”