Lime & Basil, Tagaytay: The Pros And Cons Of Operating During The Pandemic
After countless gruelling lockdowns, repeated easing and reinforcement of restrictions, and continued travel constraints, local tourism has become increasingly invaluable. For those of us who can’t commit to extended trips away from the city, destination restaurants located right outside the metro serve as gastronomic havens, nursing our salivating palates and worried minds. But what happens to these restaurants when guests can’t leave their homes? How do they manage, and how do they adapt?
With two branches in Cavite (one in Alfonso, one in Tagaytay) and a third to follow, no one is more familiar with this predicament than Sigrid Sayos, owner of Thai restaurant Lime & Basil. In this interview, Sigrid discusses the nuances that come with running such a destination restaurant: the advantages of being a welcome, spacious reprieve for busy urban dwellers; and the harsh realities of sustaining a business away from the city. Moreover, Sigrid demonstrates the power of quick-thinking and innovation, highlighting their unique selling points and even opening a new flower shop, Studio Morii, inspired by growing market trends and newfound hobbies.
How did the pandemic affect and change the way you run the restaurant from service to menu and food? What changes are here to stay?
Of course, we strictly follow the protocols - our biggest challenge has to be the restrictions with children. Most of our guests are families, who often have young children with them. Even though we’d love to welcome them into our restaurant, we have to refuse. That’s been really difficult.
We’ve also had to pivot and adapt quite frequently, whether due to dangers posed by the Taal situation or to cater to the changing dining preferences of our market. We’ve introduced an all-day breakfast menu to better cater to the morning crowd, as well as more vegan and vegetarian options to accommodate the growing segment of diners with healthier eating habits. We also added some cosier touches to our alfresco area to make this space more inviting.
Both Lime and Basil branches are located outside Metro Manila - one in Tagaytay and one in Alfonso. What opportunities and/or challenges have you encountered that are unique to this experience?
The lockdown period was hands down the hardest. However, as restrictions eased, guests flocked in - city-dwellers from Manila are seeking out less-crowded places. They’re hunting destination restaurants. We’ve even had the pleasure of hosting some small, intimate weddings.
What COVID-19 related measures do you think are here to stay (even post-pandemic) and how do you feel about them?
Honestly, we can’t wait to do away with facemasks - restaurant service just isn’t the same when you can’t see everyone’s faces, it draws away from the personable and personal touches that are so key to the hospitality experience. But we do believe that frequent sanitation is here to stay and that guests will continue to choose al fresco dining options and prefer tables that are generously spaced apart.
Did you decide to offer takeaway/delivery? Why/why not, and how has the response been?
During the lockdown, we really concentrated on our deliveries and utilised our own van to reach guests in Tagaytay, Alfonso, and some parts of Cavite. We were one of the first restaurants in the area to offer delivery, so people were very receptive - especially guests ordering from our Tagaytay Highlands branch.
What unexpected opportunities arose from the pandemic for you?
Since people are still wary about dining in large groups, we were able to explore and eventually execute the idea of holding intimate events at the restaurant, and created packages for private lunches and dinners for two or more guests. We are very fortunate to have a spacious alfresco dining area, which proved to be a key asset as guests ease back into the idea of dining out. We also noticed that there’s a growing appreciation for plants and flowers, which inspired us to open a small flower shop.
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We’ve had to pivot - and pivot hard.
— Sigrid Sayos
How did you make the most of the virtual space during the pandemic?
We’ve definitely had to utilise the web more than ever before. Guests prefer to make reservations and orders online, so we’ve had to better establish ourselves online so we’re active and visible to our diners. We also organised our social media profiles, joined other platforms, and created our own website to increase our digital presence.
How did the pandemic impact your cooking and eating habits, whether at home or at the restaurant?
Home-cooking definitely became more valuable over the pandemic - not just cooking from scratch, but pickling, bottling, bread-making, and baking sweets and desserts. Like a lot of people nowadays, we spend most of our time at home, so we’ve been able to enjoy slow home-cooked meals.
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What did you learn about yourself outside of work during these challenging times? Did you pick up any new skills, hobbies or passions during the pandemic?
In addition to an emphasis on everything home-cooked, we’ve also become more active in gardening. I frequently foraged in our garden and played around with flower arrangements quite a bit. I also tried my hand at styling for events, and even for our daily table setups. This passion really bloomed during this pandemic, so as mentioned we decided to open a small flower shop.
What challenges did you overcome as a restaurateur/chef?
We’ve had to pivot - and pivot hard. Eventually, we realised that people will always find the time to clear their headspace and chase a change of scenery - going to restaurants, especially destination restaurants like ours, is the easiest way to do that, so we really leaned into that unique selling point of our restaurant.
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What advice do you have for other restaurateurs and chefs?
Sometimes you just have to innovate. Stick with what you know and focus on whatever resources you have available, but utilise your creativity as well.
Online platforms and the digital space have made it much easier to start a business and realise your ideas - however, once you do start, you mustn't forget about the nitty-gritty of running a business either. Similarly, it’s easy to draw attention, but remember that your clientele can easily read the sincerity (or lack thereof) of your business, and remember to ask yourself if you can truly commit in the long term.
How do you think consumers/diners can best support you and the F&B industry in the short term, and long term?
Tagaytay is a destination rich with beautiful natural sights and delicious food, away from maddening crowds - we’re optimistic that people will continue to head our way to experience this for themselves. Our third branch is opening soon too, so we hope that people are looking forward to that as much as we are.
What do you think the future holds for F&B in the PH? And looking further into the future, how do you think restaurants and the experience of dining out will change as a result of the pandemic?
Sustainability is the future of restaurants: sourcing local ingredients and supporting local farms is the way to go. Furthermore, people will continue to seek out destination restaurants - in the growing experience economy, guests want to dine out for the full dining experience, not just the food.
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