BUSINESSES that will be hurt by tighter alcohol restrictions need help adjusting to the new rules, said MPs yesterday.

A possible transition measure could be a demerit point system for coffee shops that flout liquor licence rules, rather than revoking the licences immediately, said Nominated MP Thomas Chua. This would give them time to take corrective measures, he said.

Coffee shops are usually badly hit when they lose their alcohol licenses, and are often unsure if the loss is permanent.

For instance, Mr Thomas Foo lost the alcohol licence at his coffee shop in Geylang last year, which led to him incurring monthly losses of $20,000 to $30,000.

He said his licence had been abruptly revoked after he received three summonses within a month, including one for having a customer drink alcohol at his shop shortly past midnight, which flouts the conditions of his liquor licence.

"I am still hoping to get the licence back but I am not sure how long I will have to wait," said Mr Foo, who chairs the Kheng Keow Coffee Merchants Restaurant and Bar-Owners Association.

A demerit point system "can provide early warning to the operators and encourage them to exercise self-discipline", said Mr Chua, who is the president of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Second Home Affairs Minister S. Iswaran said that there are currently no plans to implement such a system, but the ministry will look into this suggestion.

Other MPs worried that alcohol retailers might be badly affected by the new curbs. Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) urged a lifting of the ban on sales of alcohol after 10.30pm, saying the restrictions on public drinking should be sufficient.

In response, Mr Iswaran said it is not possible to "decouple" public consumption from retail sales.

"Those who buy (alcohol) do not all go home and drink, or at least there will be a temptation to do other things," he said.

But he added that extensions of liquor retail sales hours will be considered on a case-by-case basis, taking into account factors such as whether retailers work to mitigate any negative impact.

Another concern raised was the impact on Singapore's appeal as a tourist destination.

Mr Chua suggested that after public order improves, liquor sale rules should be relaxed for nightlife outlets popular with tourists.

Singapore Nightlife Business Association president Dennis Foo agreed, saying that with the new curbs leading to more orderly conduct in general, a 24-hour party environment at certain night spots would attract more tourists.