TAY Eu-Yen is a lawyer and entrepreneur with 15 years of management experience in the entertainment and hospitality sectors, having co-founded The Butter Factory Group as well as Coterie Concepts. She is currently practising as of-counsel at Providence Law Asia LLC, and has established a niche area of practice advising businesses in the entertainment and hospitality sector.
In this interview with Asia Law Portal, she sheds some light on what it means to be a business lawyer and how she helps entertainment and hospitality businesses achieve their objectives. She also tells us how her in-depth business experience in the sector inspired her to focus on this practice and enables her to excel in it. She further explains what unique challenges and opportunities may present to the industry in 2021 – and how she envisages the future of her practice to take shape against the changing landscape of innovation.
You’re of Counsel to Providence Law Asia. Tell us about the firm.
Providence Law Asia is a top independent firm founded and helmed by Senior Counsel Abraham Vergis. The firm specialises in disputes resolution and my niche practice is the only corporate arm of the firm.
You provide counsel to entertainment and hospitality businesses. Tell us more about your practice and how your experience managing such businesses makes a difference to the advice that you offer.
My practice is niche in the sense that it is focused on businesses in the entertainment and hospitality sectors. But within the practice, I advise on all aspects related to a business such as funding, business structures, third party transactions, growth, and regulatory compliance. I see myself as a business lawyer specialising in advising businesses on how to achieve their varied objectives. My experience of 15 years founding and managing my own businesses in these sectors allows me to provide legal solutions that have regard to the reality of business operations. My ground-up understanding of the nitty-gritty of business enables me to foresee legal issues, and conversely, non-legal issues, that may be blind-spots to somebody who has not managed a business. I enjoy that I can marry both my legal expertise and my management experience to help other businesses grow.
What inspired you to focus specifically on providing legal services to this industry?
In my 15 years of managing nightclubs, bars, restaurants and other related businesses in the sector, I had also been General Counsel for all my businesses. Due to the lack of organised legal knowledge in the area of entertainment and hospitality (back in the day at least), I had to chart out regulatory compliance protocols as well as navigate countless transactions without reference points or precedents. Having acquired piecemeal knowledge through research when managing practical situations, I finally decided to put that together in a book as a guide for others. Business Law for the Night Entertainment Entrepreneur was published by Thomas Reuters, Sweet & Maxwell in 2012 and in the same year, I co-founded the Singapore Nightlife Business Association (SNBA) with fellow nightlife veterans to lobby for policy changes and government support. I have taught Business Law and Contracts at SMU School of Law and a legal module for F&B Enterprise at SMU School of Business. I suppose then, that I have always in my own way been trying to provide legal services to this industry and when the time came for me to move back into practice, it seemed only natural that I would establish myself as a lawyer for entertainment and hospitality businesses.
What unique challenges and opportunities does the industry face in 2021?
The industry is not homogeneous and different sub-sectors will be affected differently by the pandemic. Entertainment has all but ground to a halt – this sub-sector will face more closures and the challenges of pivoting their businesses, the most poignant of which would simply be that the entire revenue model would have to shift while huge fixed costs such as rent could remain at the same premium paid for by entertainment outlets. Restaurants will face manpower challenges as the regulations on foreign workers tighten regardless that locals are not willing to do many jobs associated with F&B. The current phenomenon that sees fine dining restaurants fully booked months ahead may also be a bubble created by the lack of entertainment and the 1030 pm curfew on alcohol; a bubble that could burst the moment entertainment opens up. Travel hospitality will have to hope that the population of Singapore continues to be excited to explore its own country and have that “Singapoliday”.
The opportunities are perhaps in adopting technology to enhance these sub-sectors, creating more efficiency and innovating new experiences. It is a lot easier said than done. For one, the whole idea of entertainment and hospitality is that there is a personable service to be enjoyed, and to that large extent, many touch points cannot or should not be automated. The most obvious uses of technology are seen in food delivery platforms, e-menus, food and beverage preparation equipment, as well as POS and back-end software. But there is a limit to replacing real people in an industry that thrives on and celebrates real people. On the other hand, innovating new experiences could present true opportunities. I have clients who are working to improve their conventional businesses with virtual complements or to disrupt the traditional landscape with technology. These are, however, not easy opportunities to seize because a lot of resources are needed to be spent.
A silver lining, I believe, does exist in the industry becoming more collaborative. The pandemic has spawn a strong bond among operators who realise the industry as a whole must stick together to get through this crisis. We can expect that as we emerge from 2021, collaboration will be the new black.
How do you see your practice progressing with the times?
Apart from advising businesses based on more conventional models, my focus has turned to advising businesses that have a novel slant, such as those involved in food and beverage technology, virtual entertainment, and innovative forms of hospitality. I see my practice moving towards “new entertainment and hospitality” involving food science, virtual reality, e-sports, service by robots, and hopefully other experiences that I cannot yet name.
Separately, I have started to expand my practice to include advising businesses on corporate sustainability compliance and contribution. As 2030 looms ahead, this decade is critical. Businesses must not only be willing, but must also be equipped to achieve their best levels of corporate sustainability, and they must start right now.