Despite New Restrictions, Central Phnom Penh Eateries Unperturbed by Dine-In Ban

3 min read
A local official hands papers explaining measures to close down dine-in at restaurants to food vendors near Phnom Penh’s Phsar Kabko, on July 30, 2021. (Keat Soriththeavy/VOD)

Ten stainless steel containers are full of lunch items at a food vendor in Phnom Penh’s Phsar Kabko market. Stall workers are busy preparing for lunch service, packing lunches for those looking for an early meal and catering to two or three dine-in customers Friday morning.

Amid the bustle of food service, 10 officials start milling around the market handing out sheets of paper listing restrictions during the new lockdown measures. One of the restrictions is a ban on dine-in services at the city’s eateries.

An official explains to the stall workers that they cannot have customers dine in, a directive that does not shock them. The food-stall worker, who did not want to be named, said it would not matter if customers were not allowed to sit and eat on the premises.

“It is not so different if the customer eats here or takes it away. And I will follow from tomorrow then,” the vendor said.

Phnom Penh adopted measures following national guidelines issued by the government on Wednesday to restrict dining in at restaurants, ban gatherings of more than 10 people, and impose a night curfew from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. The guidelines, which came into effect Friday, were issued after the Health Ministry confirmed cases of the Delta variant of the Covid-19 virus among local cases.

Eight provinces near the Thailand border have also been placed under lockdown, with the border closed temporarily, after returning migrant workers tested positive for the Delta variant.

Not far from the Phsar Kabko food vendor, another restaurant owner said she had been told to stop service at 9 p.m. but had not heard of any restrictions on dine-in service. But the owner was unperturbed by the new restrictions.

“Last time when the government announced that restaurants can only provide takeaway for customers, I sold more food than people who come to eat here. This is because the street sellers might close down, therefore the people will come to my restaurant,” the owner said.

Restaurant and food vendors have faced significant disruptions due to the capital’s lockdown and Covid-19 restrictions, with many saying they have been close to shutting shop after around 18 months of Covid-19.

Phnom Penh deputy governor Keut Chhe confirmed on Friday that all dine-in at restaurants will be prohibited for the next two weeks, and that vendors and owners should not have to wait for district officials to enforce the rules.

“The restrictions started from midnight today. We have announced the [rules] to the restaurants and more places. However, the sellers should not wait for the district to provide them the papers,” Chhe said.

Sou Van Anai is a 31-year-old food vendor near Boeng Keng Kang high school in central Phnom Penh. Customers are busy eating their lunches at her small stall Friday afternoon. 

The vendor said she didn’t mind shifting to only takeaway services, and was waiting to hear from local authorities before disallowing customers at her stall. She said her customers would likely understand why the restrictions were needed, and that she would only have to factor in the cost of takeaway food containers.

“However, I can still work as usual,” Anai said. “But the important thing is I will spend more money on boxes and plastic bags for customers. If they eat here I wouldn’t have to spend extra money on plastic.”

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