- There are 60,000 restaurants across the country
- The sector employs around 12 lakh people
- Only 1% restaurants reopened after the Covid-19 shutdown
- Reopened restaurants struggling due to poor sales
- Restaurant owners urging govt to allocate Tk10,000cr of FY2020-21 budget to sector
- Business hours currently 10am to 4pm
- Owners want business hours extended from 6am to 12am
The restaurant sector is suffering from the long-term economic consequences of Covid-19 as only one percent of restaurants across the country have reopened after the end of the 66-day shutdown.
However, the reopened restaurants and coffee shops are also struggling due to poor sales and shortened business hours – from 10am to 4pm – according to restaurant owners.
While the situation already looks gloomy, restaurant owners are finding it even more difficult to keep their businesses up and running as they claim banks are showing little interest in giving them loans under the government stimulus package announced for pandemic-hit industries and the service sector.
Against such a backdrop, the Bangladesh Restaurant Owners' Association on Sunday put forward a five-point charter of demands, to the government, through a virtual press conference.
The demands include setting aside a Tk10,000 crore fund in the budget for FY2020-21 to support hotels, restaurants and sweetmeat shops.
According to the Bangladesh Restaurant Owners' Association, there are around 60,000 restaurants across the country and 8,000 of them are in Dhaka. Around 12 lakh people are employed in the sector.
All the restaurants in the country closed their business after March 22 amid the novel coronavirus outbreak, the association said.
After a meeting of the association on June 1, its president Khandaker Ruhul Amin said, "Most restaurant owners are not interested in reopening their businesses considering the current situation. However, if anyone wants to reopen their restaurant now, they can go ahead."
Following that announcement, restaurants started to reopen but on a limited scale. Some are operating takeaway services.
"Only one percent of restaurants are open across the country now but their sales are very poor," said M Rezaul Karim Sarker Rabin, general secretary of Bangladesh Restaurant Owners' Association.
"Sales at my restaurant have reduced to 10 percent from those in a normal period. Only six among 58 employees are working at my restaurant at present," added M Rezaul who is also the owner of Saikat Hotel and Restaurant.
Ratan Molla, managing director of Mallika Snacks in the capital's Gulshan area, said, "I reopened my restaurant on June 1. My restaurant can accommodate 80 people, but I have decreased the seating capacity by 50 percent to ensure social distancing."
"My daily sales were around Tk30,000-40,000, per day, before the novel coronavirus outbreak – they have dropped to Tk5,000-7,000 at present," he added.
He claimed that the poor sales are mostly attributable to the shortened business hours.
The restaurant owners' association has urged the government to increase the operating hours from 6am to 12am.
The association's president Khandaker Ruhul Amin told The Business Standard that a maximum of 10 percent of restaurants have reopened in the capital but their seating capacity had to be halved.
Mir Akter Uddin Dulal, owner of Star Kabab in Dhanmondi, said, "The novel coronavirus situation has not returned to normal. So, we are still uncertain about reopening our restaurants. We will take a decision on this after July 15."
Meanwhile, the Bangladesh Hotel Restaurant Sweetmeat Workers' Federation alleged that hotels and restaurants are continuing to downsize their staff.
General Secretary of the Workers' Federation Anwar Hossain said, "The reopened restaurants have laid off nearly 50 percent of their employees."
Khandaker Ruhul Amin denied the allegation saying, "We are not laying off anyone."
"I had to reduce my restaurant's seating capacity of 80 people to 40 to maintain social distancing. So, 25 of my 45 employees are working now. The rest of them are on leave and I am paying them according to my capacity," he added.
Restaurant owners demanded that the government ensure emergency cash assistance for hotel-restaurant workers before Eid-Ul-Azha. They also sought low-cost bank loans and an opportunity to pay the utility bills of the current year next year.
The association leaders claimed that they have instructed their members to maintain nine health measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.