Restaurants in Dhaka had just started to ride out the coronavirus crisis but the surge in Covid-19 cases in the last one month has been pulling it down again.
For instance, the upscale Dhaka eatery 138 East retrieved 80% of its customers until the first week of November since its reopening in July. With a surge in the virus infection rate, sales in the remaining days of November then nosedived to around 40% compared to its corresponding period last year.
The 138 East is a favorite hangout for diners who love contemporary American and European cuisines. Customers come to the place to renew their taste-buds with grilled barbecue chicken, sirloin steak, roast lamb, soups, salads, savories and desserts ranging from Tk180 to Tk2,999.
After the opening, the restaurant in Dhaka's Gulshan minimised its dine-in capacity from 200 to 120 guests in a bid to maintain social distancing. Even with limited seating arrangements, 138 East Managing Director Ashfaq Rahman Asif said the eatery had been recovering gradually in the last couple of months.
"The impact of the so-called second wave of Covid-19 has affected our business since the second week of November. We fear the slump in sales may intensify in the coming days," said Ashfaq.
The impact of the so-called second wave of Covid-19 has affected our business since the second week of November. We fear the slump in sales may intensify in the coming days
Ashfaq has three other restaurants in Gulshan and Banani. He said there are more than 250 restaurants in those upscale areas and all are facing the same kind of business losses.
The American-Australian retail coffee house chain Gloria Jean's Coffees has five outlets in Dhanmondi and Gulshan, employing around 150 staffers.
The surge in the infection rate has hurt the chain too.
Gloria Jean's Head of Business AFM Murshed Elahy told The Business Standard that it had recovered business by around 90% until October. "But it has dropped to around 65% since November,"he added.
"People in posh areas like Gulshan and Banani are relatively conscious about virus safety. The fear of infection has affected our business again," Murshed Elahy commented.
Mid and low-end eateries also in trouble
Though Murshed Elahy claimed that Gulshan and Banani dwellers are more prone to virus-related fears, the infection surge has dealt a blow to sales of mid and low-end eateries as well in the capital.
For instance, the mid-end kabab restaurant chain Star Kabab said its business took a downturn in November.
Mir Akter Uddin Dulal, owner of Dhanmondi Star Kabab, said the restaurant had been witnessing low customer turnout after evening in the last 25 days. "Our sales now hover around 60% at the five outlets in the capital," he added.
Online sales enjoy a green patch
KFC and Pizza Hut mostly rely on takeout and home delivery services. The eateries say business has been good even with a low customer turnout.
"We are getting 20-30% of customers at our 40 outlets as we heavily depend on home delivery services," said Momen Uddin, senior manager of KFC and Pizza Hut.
"Business has not been bad in recent months as online orders keep pouring in," he added.
There are around 60,000 large, medium and small restaurants across the country and some 8,000 of them are in Dhaka, according to the Bangladesh Restaurant Owners Association.
As many as 20-25% of restaurants remain closed across the country owing to the pandemic. Now average sales are around 40-50% in most restaurants
"As many as 20-25% of restaurants remain closed across the country owing to the pandemic. Now average sales are around 40-50% in most restaurants," said Rezaul Karim Sarkar Robin, general secretary of the Bangladesh Restaurant Owners Association.
"The situation is almost the same both in luxury restaurants and elsewhere," he added.
Delivery companies overcharging eateries amid operation cost rise
Syed Mohammad Andalib, owner of Baburchi restaurant in Dhanmondi and publicity secretary of the association, said, "The operating costs of luxury restaurants have increased due to the pandemic; they are spending extra in packaging and other hygiene measures. But food prices have not increased."
On top of that, restaurant owners complained that food delivery companies have increased their commission by around 8-15% per delivery.
A restaurant owner said he previously used to pay 15% commission as delivery charge, which has spiked to 23-25% in the pandemic.
"It is a mounting burden. Customers will have to pay through their nose in the end," the owner, wishing anonymity, added. He pointed the finger at a multinational company for monopolizing the food delivery business.
"The government should introduce strict regulations to bring order in the system," he commented.
Meanwhile, restaurant suppliers said the rise in infection hurts their businesses too.
Mizanur Rahman, who supplies meat to around 70 to 80 restaurants every day in upscale Dhaka, said, "Demand for chicken and beef has been around 60% in the last two weeks compared to pre-Covid times."