Fresh Covid wave puts restaurant recovery at risk
Restaurant owners’ association fears many eateries will face closure due to the new wave
At a time when the restaurant sector was gradually recovering from last year's Covid-19 blows, the fresh wave has now become a great barrier to that recovery.
Restaurant owners said businesses had recovered 60-70% after reopening in July last year. But due to the recent spike in coronavirus cases and deaths, business declined to 30-40% compared to normal times.
At least 10-15% of restaurants were permanently closed across the country amid last year's virus outbreak while many others will face closure now due to the fresh wave, said Bangladesh Restaurant Owners' Association.
Restaurants are allowed to offer only takeaways or online deliveries during the ongoing seven-day lockdown.
Mir Akter Uddin Dulal, owner of Star Kabab in the capital's Dhanmondi, said, "We had only 40-50% business in the last one month as the fresh wave hit. We lost 30-40% sales during this period.
"We will continue our takeaway services during the lockdown. We have not yet decided on granting leave to our 200 employees."
He mentioned that they had almost no business through takeaways or online deliveries on the first day of the lockdown on Monday.
Imran Hasan, general secretary of the association, said he owns 23 restaurants across the country and most of those are located on university campuses. He could not reopen the restaurants as educational institutions are still closed.
"One of my restaurants in the Farmgate area was permanently closed in November last year. We lost business as many people left Dhaka. Many also lost jobs and educational institutions did not reopen," he said.
He mentioned that police pressure restaurants to close between 4pm and 6pm even though only takeaway services are offered now.
But there is no clear official directive to close takeaway services within 6pm, he added.
Syed Mohammad Andalib, owner of Baburchi restaurant in Dhanmondi and the organising secretary of the association, said takeaways and online deliveries would not account for over 5% of the total business of restaurant owners.
His business recovered 30-40% after reopening in September last year.
"We have been operating the restaurant maintaining all health guidelines after reopening. But social gatherings like weddings, large meetings, and rallies are mainly responsible for the spread of the virus during the new wave," he said.
"We sought permission from the government to continue our business at 50% of the seating capacity in order to maintain social distancing. But the authorities did not grant us the permission," he added.
According to Broa, there are around 60,000 restaurants across the country and 8,000 of them are in Dhaka. Around 12 lakh people are employed in this sector.
All the restaurants in the country closed after 22 March last year amid the novel coronavirus outbreak. They started reopening in June but on a limited scale. Some are still offering only takeaway services.
Thousands of restaurant employees lost their jobs after the first outbreak. In the face of the fresh wave, both owners and employees are now concerned about business and jobs.
M Rezaul Karim Sarker Rabin, current vice-president and former general secretary of Broa, said, "We could not overcome the impacts of the first wave yet. Around 10-15% of restaurants could not reopen. More than 200 restaurants in Dhaka city were permanently closed. The Banani branch of Gulshan restaurant did not reopen."
He said some restaurants in neighbourhoods are open amid the lockdown.
"Sales at my restaurant fell by 50% compared to normal times. Our 58 employees are now facing great uncertainties," added Rabin, also the owner of Saikat hotel and restaurant in Bogura.
As the pandemic ravaged the restaurant sector, Broa demanded a Tk10,000 crore fund in the budget for the fiscal year 2020-21 to support hotels, restaurants, and sweetmeat shops. But their demand was not fulfilled.
Rabin said many in the restaurant sector would not survive if no support is offered amid the fresh wave.
Ashfaq Rahman Asif, managing director of 138 East cafe in Gulshan, said he is concerned about how to pay his employees as Ramadan and Eid are coming.
"I have five restaurants in Dhaka. If the slump continues, I have to close some operations permanently," he added.