Restaurants in reopening conundrum
Around five percent restaurants that have opened in the capital are hardly getting any diners as the number of Covid-19 cases is increasing every day
To swing open the doors or continue to shutter? – it is a debate playing out at most restaurants in the capital as the government has lifted the shutdown that lasted more than two months.
Only 5 percent of restaurants that have resumed operations are hardly getting any diners with a constant rise in the coronavirus caseload with each passing day.
Some restaurants that offer takeaway services are also not having enough customers.
In this situation, restaurateurs are finding it tough to pay salaries to their staffers and rents for spaces as well.
Ashfaq Rahman Asif, managing director of Tarka, a restaurant in Banani, said he had been running his eatery's takeaway services since Ramadan. But he sees a very lukewarm response from customers.
"People in Gulshan and Banani are relatively conscious about having food from restaurants amid coronavirus fears. That is why our business has not picked up yet," he added.
Asif is planning to reopen dine-in services. But his concern is having diners in the restaurant amid a feeling of uncertainty over virus transmission.
There are more than 250 restaurants in Gulshan and Banani areas. Of them, nearly 5 percent have resumed their businesses.
"I have been running my restaurant from 8am to 4pm every day as per the government's directive since it reopened on May 31," said Ratan Molla, owner of Mallika Snacks in Gulshan.
Seating arrangements in his restaurant have halved to 13 for maintaining social distancing, he added.
"My daily sale is now less than 5 percent. I bought foodstuffs worth Tk10,000 on Tuesday, but could get only Tk1,500 in sales till 2:30pm on the day," he added.
The short period of operation hours – from 8am to 4pm – is not suitable for running restaurants, he added.
He said 95 percent of eateries in Gulshan and Banani areas remain shut now.
"Those who have reopened are struggling a lot due to fewer customers," he added.
Mir Akter Uddin Dulal, owner of Dhanmondi Star Kabab, said, "The novel coronavirus situation has not improved yet. So, we will observe the situation till June 15. Then we will decide on reopening of our restaurant."
There are around 30,000 restaurants all over the country, and some 8,000 of them are located in the capital.
"Only 1 percent of restaurants have opened across the country. The business hours set by the government are not cost-effective for us," said Khandaker Ruhul Amin, president of Bangladesh Restaurant Owners' Association.
After a meeting of the association on Monday, he told The Business Standard, "We are in an uncertain situation now. If we open restaurants, we may operate them from 8am to 4pm. But, we cannot afford costs by keeping restaurants open for this short period.
"We want to operate until 8pm."
He said, "I will not open my restaurant. If an owner wants to open his/her restaurant in this situation, they can do it.
"The association has decided to maintain nine health measures against the novel coronavirus."
MS Alam Shahjahan, owner of the Rajdhani Hotel and Restaurant in Gulistan, said, "If we want to maintain social distancing, seating arrangements must be decreased. And by decreasing the number of seats and operating hours, we will not be able to meet regular expenses."
The owners of such restaurants and coffee shops are struggling to pay rent and salaries to staff members during the pandemic.
"We have three branches in Gulshan and Dhanmondi areas. We could not pay the full rent last month and salaries of around 260 staff members too," said Murshed Elahy, head of business at Gloria Jeans Coffees.
"We are running takeaway services by maintaining health safety measures," he added.