The restaurant industry is now on a path to recovery since the resumption of dining services this month, following a closure spanning more than four months mandated by the government to curb a spike in Covid-19 cases.
Most restaurants, coffee shops and fast food vendors reported having recovered around 60%-70% of their pre-pandemic sales volume, according to industry insiders. They added that such businesses will fully recover after getting permission to operate at 100% capacity.
Bangladesh's restaurants and other similar establishments are currently operating at 50% of their accommodation capacity as per government directives.
The outlets of Café Milano – three in Chittagong city and one in Dhaka's Banani – are currently operating at nearly half their capacity after reopening on 11 August this year. They serve Thai, Chinese, Indian, Italian, fast food, and local Bangladeshi dishes at different branches.
The restaurant chain's Managing Director Ifaz Khan said, "Our sales currently stand at nearly 70% compared to the pre-pandemic average. We have already reappointed 300 staff members, many of whom were furloughed since the virus outbreak hit Bangladesh in March last year.
"We are also enforcing health safety guidelines at our restaurants, such as providing masks to guests who do not have them. However, most customers are not showing enough awareness on this issue."
Mir Akter Uddin Dulal, owner of Dhanmondi Star Kabab – a popular restaurant chain in Dhaka, said, "We have only provided takeaways and online food delivery services since April this year due to the nationwide lockdown.
"Since we resumed dining services this month, our sales volume has recovered around 65% of its pre-pandemic average. We have five branches in Dhaka. With dining services resuming, online deliveries now make up only 3% of our total business."
A top executive of Gloria Jeans, a coffee shop chain with six branches in Dhaka, expressed similar sentiments and added that the business is slowly recovering and the sales volume is on the way to reaching the pre-pandemic average.
District-level restaurants recovering too
A number of restaurant owners at the district level told The Business Standard that they are also doing good business after resuming operations.
M Rezaul Karim Sarker Rabin, owner of Saikat Hotel and Restaurant in Bogura and current vice-president of Bangladesh Restaurant Owners Association (Broa), said, "Current sales volumes are not the same in all district regions.
"But we have already recovered more than 60% of our pre-pandemic sales on average, which is not bad at all."
According to Broa, Bangladesh has around 60,000 restaurants across the country, with 8,000 of them operating in Dhaka. The sector employs around 12 lakh people.
Thousands of restaurant employees lost their jobs after the first virus outbreak hit Bangladesh in 2020. But as the sector is showing a trend toward recovery, many staff members are now getting their jobs back.
On the issue, Broa's General Secretary Imran Hasan said, "At least 10%-15% of the restaurants had shut their doors during last year's viral outbreak. Many others could not reopen as the educational institutions were closed.
"So, some of the lost jobs will not return as many restaurant owners have already left the business."
Owners complain of not getting govt stimulus
The entire hospitality sector – especially hotels, resorts, and restaurants – is one of the sectors severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Industry entrepreneurs have been desperate about getting a special stimulus for months, but this particular sector was deprived of the Tk1,000cr loan for hotels, motels, and theme parks – introduced by the government in June this year.
Broa's Publicity Secretary Ashfaq Rahman Asif, who is also managing director of 138 East Cafe in Gulshan said, "We have been struggling with the maintenance cost of our establishments, including rents, electricity bills and staff salaries since the shutdown last year.
"I could not pay my staff their salaries this July as the sales volume was almost zero during the lockdown. Despite the dire situation, we did not receive any loan support from the government."
Restaurants across the country closed after 22 March last year amid the novel coronavirus outbreak. These establishments resumed operations in June 2020, but on a limited scale.
They had to shut down their dining services once again this April because of government restrictions introduced to curb the second wave of Covid-19.