Too close for comfort?
Owners say they have no choice but to put tables on roads
Although it has been issued several warnings and fined $500 thrice by the authorities, this eatery isn't budging.
Since it opened eight years ago, the restaurant owners of Tang Tea House at Bedok Road have placed more than 20 tables on the pavement of the main road and on the service road.
This is done even though vehicles go so close to the tables that a customer could easily touch a car just by reaching out.
But the practice of roadside dining is still going strong, even after an accident a fortnight ago, when a taxi slammed into a Siglap bistro along East Coast Road. (See report on right.)
Tang Tea House's tables occupy nearly half of the service road, causing traffic to slow to a crawl to avoid the outdoor dining area, where more than 300 customers sit daily.
This is not allowed, said the Land Transport Authority (LTA).
Under the Street Works Act, shop owners have to keep five-foot ways, public walkways and public streets clear so as not to impede the movement of pedestrians, he added.
The New Paper understands that the maximum fine under the act is $2,000. Repeat offenders may have their licenses revoked.
However, outdoor dining areas are allowed if they follow guidelines set out by the Urban Redevelopment Authority. (See report on facing page).
Since October, enforcers from various government agencies have been telling the restaurant to remove the tables and chairs from the road, its owners claimed.
One of them, Mr Tan Keng Hoon, 58, said that doing so would cause him to lose most of his revenue.
He said: "Seventy per cent of the people who come here want to sit outdoors. If you take this away, we cannot do business.
"We know that it is a safety issue, but it is not like we insist on doing so. It is a response to a need.
"Sometimes, on a busy day, customers even tell us to set up more tables outside."
Part of his restaurant is also undergoing renovation.
This limits the indoor sitting areas for customers, said Mr Tan.
He felt the Siglap incident should not result in the authorities toughening its stance towards shop owners.
He said: "(The accident) was upsetting, but it is not in everyone's best interest if the authorities clamp down on all outdoor dining areas because of it.
"They must first understand why people prefer sitting outdoors."
To protect his customers, he said, his employees would warn customers of oncoming vehicles and would ask those with young children to sit indoors.
Another manager of a 24-hour coffee shop at South Bridge Road said she would be forced to close down if the authorities made her remove the outdoor tables, some of which are beside a busy bus lane.
Only 10 of its 30 tables are within her eatery's premises.
NOT ENOUGH SPACE
Said the manager, who declined to be named: "I need those tables to run a business. Without the tables, I would have too few to run a business. How to make money (if you take them away)?"
Most patrons The New Paper spoke to believe that eating outdoors by the roadside is synonymous with Singaporean culture and should not be curbed.
One regular customer of Tang Tea House, broadcasting operator Muhd Faizal, 27, said: "It can be unsafe, but many people choose to sit (at the outdoor dining area) because it's cooler. Maybe they should just put up barricades or close the road entirely."
Said local musician Rubin Hashim, 29: "Of course there is an element of danger, but it is wrong to say that eating by the roadside is dangerous.
"Sitting and eating outside, while chatting with my friends, these just add to the culture of the place."
Mr Hashim added that several places do this, such as eateries along Geylang Road and Bencoolen Street.
At Mongkok Dim Sum at Geylang Road, Mr Yap Ngian Fook and his family were enjoying their late night supper at a table next to a congested road.
Mr Yap, 44,a cook, admitted: "It is dangerous as the cars pass by very close to us. Who knows if there might be a drunk driver out there headed for us?
"(Accidents) are very hard to predict, but if you want good food, you just sit here, hold on to your kids and don't think about it."
70 per cent of the people who come here want to sit outdoors. If you take this away, we cannot do business.
- Mr Tan Keng Hoon, co-owner of Tang Tea House at Bedok Road
Bistro repaired, but customers not back
Two weeks on and the Siglap bistro is still affected by the accident in which a taxi crashed into its al fresco dining area, injuring four customers and one employee.
Georges Mad Bar and Grill no longer bears the scars of the accident as it has restored the wrecked al fresco dining area and has added walls that are reinforced with a steel frame.
It did so to the tune of $40,000.
Its owner, Mr David Leong, 40, said: "Business is not good, but at least we recovered in time for the Liverpool vs Chelsea match on Sunday. That was the only time it was full house.
"It takes time for my customers to adjust. Customers have been asking if it is safe to sit outside."
He said the bar lost around $10,000 in potential revenue in the week after the incident.
The taxi had first collided with a red Honda Jazz at around 9pm on April 17.
The taxi driver of four years has been suspended.
A police spokesman confirmed that he is assisting them in investigations.
The employee who was injured is still on medical leave.
Mr Leong said that the road in front of his bistro, East Coast Road, has seen many accidents as drivers often speed and make illegal U-turns.
In 2008, a female pedestrian was killed when a taxi slammed into her, severing her leg and sending her body flying into a drain.
A taxi careened off East Coast Road and ploughed into customers at Georges Mad Bar and Grill. Five were injured.
A black Subaru crashed into a pub near the junction of Geylang Road and Guillemard Road, causing two pillars in front of the row of shophouses to break. The 28-year-old driver suffered superficial injuries to his hand.
A man, 21, drove his Honda up a kerb and into the entrance of a restaurant in Holland Village before it burst into flames. The driver, who hurt his leg, escaped from the vehicle and was the only casualty.
In an e-mail reply, an Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) spokesman said outdoor refreshment areas (ORAs) are outdoor extensions of the indoor dining areas of F&B establishments.
He said, if well-managed, these areas can inject street-level vibrancy.
In commercial areas like Orchard Road and Singapore River, the URA has introduced guidelines since the 1990s to encourage ORAs.
He added: "In other areas, small-scale ORAs may be considered along the covered walkways if they do not compromise the safety of patrons, obstruct pedestrian movement or cause inconvenience to surrounding residents."
The spokesman added that each proposal made by the shop owner is evaluated while considering fire safety codes, impact on pedestrian movement andresidents, and car parking.