When the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Vietnam back in January, the Vietnamese Government moved swiftly to enact measures to safeguard its citizens from any potential further spread.

These measures (at first seen by some as draconian) included halting international flights, quarantining suspected carriers for 14 days in makeshift camps and hospitals, and enforcing a period of social distancing that drove everybody inside indefinitely.

Very quickly the once buzzing streets and sidewalks of Saigon had, believe it or not, fallen deathly silent.

Naturally, this had an immediate and, in some cases, disastrous impact on Saigon’s hospitality industry.

Bars were hit hard with some shutting their doors for good, while the ones left standing had to close down temporarily and wait things out or quickly come up with new and novel ways to trade – like bottled cocktails and deliveries – to ensure that bills and the rent got paid.

Fortunately, the Government’s decisiveness and swift response to the impending global pandemic meant that the social distancing period ended on April 23 – just 22 days after its enactment.

Following that, bars reopened and now that they’ve had some time to get their venues up and running again, we spoke to Jay Moir and Annie Vu of Layla – Eatery & Bar and Summer Experiment about how they are bouncing back from a dark first half of 2020.

B: How would you compare the difference in business at Layla – Eatery & Bar and Summer Experiment before, during and after the outbreak of COVID-19 in Saigon?

Jay: Not much has changed in the way we run our businesses, but the noticeable difference is more in the way of consumers.

We’ve worked hard and are quite lucky to have a great following in the nightlife sector. We’ve always been true to our Aussie kick-back vibes and awesome times.

Our establishments before COVID-19 had always been a place to spend time with great friends over cheeky cocktails and eats.

But, during the initial outbreak, we introduced sanitiser stations and temperature controls for the well-being of all our guests.

Our number one priority has always been our team members and visiting guests.

As things took a turn for the worse, we closed our doors as the official letter was delivered to the industry by the authorities.

Jay Moir

During the initial closure we conducted internal training with our team, and got into some good old painting. It’s great the things you can achieve with some time on your hands!

Once we hit the red light zone, we had all our staff members stay home and we followed the guidelines set by the government during the “danger period”.

As we all adapted to the “new normal” of CODID-19 – aka face masks, social distancing, limited interactions – it was a great time to take a look at how we would bounce back after it all blows over.

The Vietnamese government has done, and are doing, a terrific job during this pesky worldwide outbreak, especially with the isolation of cases and the precautionary steps in place for the safety of all people residing in Vietnam.

It may mean tough times for many, but it’s been put in place for a stronger than ever Vietnam that’s ready to bounce back!

Annie: After measures dropped back to yellow, we were given the green light to re-commence on a Friday, back into the night life sector.

We chose at Layla – Eatery & Bar and Summer Experiment to wait a little longer and not rush back in.

We re-opened on the following Monday with strict health and safety precautions in place, along with limited numbers of guests in the best interests of everyone.

Gradually over time, we removed some of the stricter precautions, for example, temperature checks, but have kept in place sanitiser on-arrival, along with sanitiser stations around our establishments. 

Summer Experiment has adapted to the “new normal”

Our venues have always been created in the best interests of sharing our love and passion towards Vietnam for enjoyment.

One of our main goals has always been to have a strong local following, which in turn has helped us bounce back to our original form before COVID-19, but, as Jay mentioned, we’ve noticed a very different consumer trend.

As times are tough for everyone, money spend has changed. People are more wary about the value of money and the best way to spend.

We’ve always prided ourselves in quality, consistency, ambiance and value for money. In return this has given us help to bounce back thanks to an amazing and supportive community of loyal guests.

Saigon bars like Layla – Eatery & Bar are bouncing back

B: Moving forward, will it be business as usual for Layla – Eatery & Bar and Summer Experiment? If not, how will your bars be different from pre-COVID-19?

Jay: There’s always light at the end of the tunnel they say. We’re back and kicking, but we’ve become more aware of the impact of global issues on our businesses and how they can impact our lives at the click of the fingers.

We believe it’s always better to think about the positives, not the negatives.

Annie: As the restrictions lifted, people starting to head out again, but with small businesses like ours, we still faced the challenge of getting customers to return to the levels that we need to survive.

However, we’re VERY fortunate to have a strong local clientele and resilient teams who play such an important role in accelerating our recovery.

At the end of the day, our business philosophy is still the same – we strive to improve ourselves as much as possible and to always be better than yesterday.

And we just want everyone to have a good time and enjoy themselves!

Expect to see even more “collabs” between venues, brands and influencers

B: How have you been collaborating with others in the industry to help bars bounce back in Saigon?

Jay: We’re all about community and proudly practice this on a daily basis. We always look to strengthen ties with other great industry minds around us.

Sometimes we all need a little helping hand. There’s nothing wrong with asking at times and people shouldn’t be scared to ask.

There’s such a great hospitality network here in Saigon. We’re all here together working on our concepts and ideas, but the end goal is showcasing how amazing Vietnam is, and ultimately, we want to do that together with others in the industry.

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 B: What initiatives did you put in place during the lockdown as a measure to retain as many of your staff as possible?

Annie: Our teams have always been our family, and family stays together through thick and thin. Prior, during and even after the lockdown, we’re always there for the teams emotionally as well as financially and we hope they also feel the same way.

B: Has COVID-19 provided Layla – Eatery & Bar and Summer Experiment with any opportunities moving forward that were perhaps unforeseeable before COVID-19?

Jay: COVID-19 happened and it won’t be going away anytime soon it seems. It’s always about adapting your approach and moving forward. The opportunities will always be there, it’s just how you’re going to tackle it.

Campari Bartender Competition Vietnam 2019 final at Summer Experiment

B: What advice would you have for other bars and hospitality folk in the region regarding how best to bounce back from COVID-19?

Jay: This goes back to community. Be humble in times of need. There are plenty of helping hands out there ready to support. Always think back to why we’re all in hospitality and what this means to you.

We like to think when you visit one of our establishments, you’re our guest at our home and we want to show you a damn good time.

And, never lose sight of the bigger picture.

B: In 12 months’ time, what does Saigon’s bar scene look like from your perspective?

Jay: Saigon is forever adapting – its history speaks for itself. We believe Vietnam and its bars will bounce back stronger than ever and they will become regarded quite highly around the world by consumers, travellers and industry insiders.

We’ve got this Vietnam!

Photos by Mike Palumbo. Follow Mike on Instagram at @mikepalumbo_

Editor’s Note: When sharing this article, please get behind Saigon’s hospitality industry by hash-tagging #BounceBack #WeveGotThisVietnam

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