The foodservice industry of Bangladesh has been growing for a few years now. Long gone are the days when people had to go through a handful of options when it came to eating out.
Bangladesh's food culture evolved with the new generation - from food carts to courts to whole buildings dedicated to restaurants offering a variety of cuisines.
This year, much to our surprise, the spread of a deadly disease, COVID-19, has heavily impacted this sector. Since the lockdown started, most ventures out there, be it restaurants, a cafe or bakery, have been struggling with their business operations. Even though the lockdown was lifted, the situation remained unchanged.
While some restaurants shut down their operations temporarily or permanently - some are still managing to keep their business afloat with takeaways and home delivery services.
In light of all this, Tahsin Rob, founder of Heart World Dhanmondi, managing partner at Rice & Noodle Dhanmondi, founder and managing director at Sumo The Maki Boy, and founder of online baking store Butter Fingers has managed to come up with innovative ideas to sustain through the pandemic.
In a conversation with The Business Standard, Tahsin spoke about the challenges restaurant owners are facing due to the pandemic and the steps she has taken to keep her business running.
"Since the pandemic hit Bangladesh, I realized there were losses coming my way and braced myself for the inevitable.
Although we had not planned on laying off employees at the beginning, we had no other option but to let go of a few members of our team. We made sure we were by their side as long as we could."
Currently, Tahsin is working with four employees. She has shut down her dine-in operations and has managed to minimize the overheads of her ventures by around 50 percent.
This pandemic is like nothing we have ever experienced before; it is a completely new playing field. True, the Covid-19 crisis brought in a new set of challenges for the food industry, but at the same time, it also opened avenues for restaurateurs to experiment with their menus and services.
In Tahsin's case, by analysing consumer behaviour, she succeeded to come up with the right products at the right time, which brought in many customers.
"During Ramadan, as people seemed to be craving halim and jilapi, I did not waste any time and launched homemade food under my current brand."
She did not stop with mouth-watering jilapis and halim. From her understanding, even though families are strictly under lockdown, it does not mean that they will not be celebrating birthdays and anniversaries.
"I opened an online bakery, Butter Fingers, where I sell customized one-pound (1/2kg) cakes. Almost 90 percent of bakers will avoid one-pound cake because the profits are very low. But because of the Covid-19, the demand for one-pounder has skyrocketed now in nuclear families celebrating special days together."
Tahsin planned on catering to her customers' needs. "In such a time, when no one is offering discounts, I presented my customers with 25-40 percent discounts on the food items because I want people to try my food. I am also giving free delivery services all over Dhaka city including areas like Matikata, Keraniganj, and Old Dhaka and due to this my sales have gone up. My 40 percent of sales come from different areas outside of Dhanmondi", she said.
Not only that, this entrepreneur also formed a valued connection with her customer base. "I have always been handling my customers personally. In fact, I have provided my personal contact number to my customers for queries. This makes them feel safe."
Due to travel restrictions, some customers are sending food to their loved ones. "I send a note on behalf of them or give them some complimentary food so that they buy that item upon their next order", she added.
At the moment Tahsin is negotiating with the landlords to reduce the rent, and if all goes well, she will be able to bring in some profits. Till now, she has been able to cover 70% of her expenses, successfully making a profit through her online bakery.
Optimist Tahsin said, "I do not give up easily and always try to find new opportunities, even in bad situations." She plans to be in the food industry for as long as she can. She is setting a benchmark by adapting her operations according to her surroundings and encouraging her colleagues to do the same.