Going to the mall before the pandemic was a part of many Filipinos’ lives. They could shop, dine, watch the latest Hollywood blockbuster, catch a live band performance and even attend Mass with family and friends.
Many establishments have since reopened, but in a greatly diminished capacity. Only a fraction (30 percent) of dining capacity is allowed in a restaurant at any given time. Social distancing is followed and monitored, and shoppers are required to wear their face masks at all times. Despite all this, SM malls has come up with ways to welcome back shoppers, one of which is their #DineInSM campaign.
Shoppers who head to key SM malls nationwide to stock up on essentials, pay their bills or avail themselves of site-specific services might be surprised to find that the atriums have been converted into new dining areas.
Aside from socially distanced tables and chairs, these wide spaces have been decorated with items designed to appeal to everyone, from K-drama fans to animal lovers.
On the ground level of Mega Fashion Hall, one will find the Seoul Spot, where diners can take selfies with Korean heartthrobs Park Seo Joon, Hyun Bin, Park Bo Gum, Ji Chang Wook and So Ji Sub.
Oversized sunflowers and scaled-down huts with thatched roofs brighten up the area at SM Baguio, a tinkling baby grand piano occupies a platform at SM Aura Premier, and winged unicorns and rainbow arches greet diners at SM City CDO Downtown Premier.
At SM City Clark, Pampanga, designer Mak Tumang created colorful face masks for larger-than-life kiddie statues, SM City Bacolod has a jungle safari theme and SM Puerto Princesa’s dining area is decked out in fairy-tale style.
Element of fun
“We introduced this element of fun dining to make the customers who come to the mall for essentials shopping a little bit happier,” Steven Tan, president of SM Supermalls, told Lifestyle in an email interview. “If we can make them smile while in an SM Mall during these difficult times, we have done our job.”
He added, “If you are done shopping and want to grab a bite in a safe, clean and airy space, we have that for you. We actually overdeliver on the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases and Department of Trade and Industry rulings, and have many large signages in all malls to communicate safe distancing and strict wearing of masks. We even tied up with Safeguard for a campaign on proper hand washing.”
On SM Malls’ digital and social assets, one can read their list of safety measures that include touch-free mobile menus, cashless payments, thermal scanners, foot baths, one-way corridors and the deployment of Safety Protocol Officers to remind customers on the new way to safely navigate the malls.
Many, if not all, businesses suffered because of the lockdown, so business owners were raring to reopen as soon as it was reasonably safe to do so. Prior to reopening SM malls, Tan and his team brainstormed with RestoPH, a group of restaurateur-tenants, on how to help micro, small and medium enterprise (MSME) restaurants and food tenants with limited seating capacity.
“Our business development team recommended we convert the airy, cathedral-high atriums that were not in use anyway since there are no live events, shows or concerts due to social distancing rules.”
The results are the bright and attractive dining areas that have been well-received by shoppers. Tan said that restaurants’ sales are up and people have been posting selfies on social media taken at the different dining areas.
At the SM South Luzon branches, larger-than-life mascots are propped up on chairs to remind diners that these seats are already occupied; a similar concept is in place at SM City Consolacion’s Animal Park. Over at SM Lanang in Davao, crayon-colored animals, including a bright pink elephant and two giraffes painted orange and yellow, tower over diners.
“We also see a lot of people working on their laptops while eating in our dining spaces. That tells us they are comfortable doing so because of the good air ventilation and the availability of whatever they crave for while working—whether it’s milk tea, a good latte or a healthy fruit shake,” Tan said.
“SM has always been about customer service, and we are happy we get a lot of positive comments online on how SM helps its tenants, especially the MSMEs (and the economy), get back on track while maintaining strict guidelines on safety and cleanliness in our malls.”
Shoppers at SM Malls can once again expect completeness and convenience, whether they have bills to pay, prescriptions to fill or groceries to buy.
“First, what we have found is that our customers also miss eating out and having dishes that are hard to make at home, whether it’s ramen, a good cheeseburger, samgyupsal, shawarma, milk tea,” Tan said. “A second insight is how thoughtful we are as a people. We always bring home pasalubong for those left at home, especially our parents and the kids. We have takeout counters in our malls where people can order ahead and pick up the food on their way out. We also have curbside pick-up counters for those in private vehicles.”
Tan is hopeful that things will soon reach some semblance of normalcy. “We know that one day, kids and seniors will come back to the mall for family dining, but for now we try to make the dining experience fun for our core customer base of young adults.”