The Financial Express

Restaurants returning, recovering  

| Updated: December 03, 2020 13:30:11

An illustrative image — FE An illustrative image — FE

Recovering from the Covid-19 crisis, restaurant sales have recently bounced back in Bangladesh.

Ever since the coronavirus pandemic hit the country, the restaurant industry has been battling to survive against the odds. Sales dropped significantly during the countrywide lockdown phase from March 26 to May 30.

Even after the lockdown was withdrawn, many restaurants found it difficult to survive and continued operations with low amount of sales.

Hundreds of restaurants in Dhaka city were forced to shut down for good. However, restaurant sales have seen a considerable growth in recent months, reviving food businesses. 

Online food delivery services became a destination of choice for many people during the coronavirus-forced lockdown a few months ago. Restaurants are nowadays conducting both dine-in and delivery services.

Chillox, a popular burger joint, had to witness a sudden drop in its sales from March to July. Ahmed Faiz, co-founder of Chillox, said, “Sales started to drop from March, with April having the lowest sales of around 12-15 per cent compared to that of the usual pre-pandemic situation.”

The eatery reopened its dine-in services following health guidelines after Eid-ul-Azha. And its sales started to increase gradually. “Currently our sales are roughly five times higher than those of the amount we had during the lockdown,” added Faiz.

Restaurants outside Dhaka are also seeing the rise of sales. According to an executive of Chaader Pahar, a popular restaurant in Narayanganj, they had many pre-orders and pre-lockdown bookings which were cancelled when the lockdown began.

“We had to refund them even though we spent a part of the money for decorations of the programmes to be held in our place,” he said. However, the restaurant has now been doing well in partnership with online food delivery service platform Foodpanda and others. 

Catering services have seen a similar growth in sales in the past couple of months. Muhammed Asif Khan, co-founder and CEO of Alpha Catering, said, “Our food orders have picked up significantly in past few months. A sharp rise in sales has been visible specifically since September.”

Even though schools, colleges and other educational institutions are still closed, youths are availing dine-in services. An increasing number of people have started to come out of their homes in the recent months to have food outside. So, many restaurants have been seen cautious about maintaining health guidelines. Their employees are seen wearing face masks and gloves.

Tahmid Izhar, a BRAC university student, went out to eat last week for the first time during the pandemic. He said, “I was surprised to see so many customers coming to the restaurant. It seems that people have accepted to do everything again.”

Mohammad Nasim, a young professional, shared his experience of going outside and eating at restaurants recently. “I saw too many people in the restaurants during weekends. High-end restaurants are prudent to follow health guidelines and this is also encouraging people to dine there,” added Nasim.

Food delivery platforms have also played a significant role in the rise of sales in restaurants. Most food delivery services are now providing contactless deliveries and options for customers to pay online. They have instructed their deliverymen to follow health guidelines and provided them with protective masks and gloves.

Even though the volume of sales in restaurants has increased in recent months, it has not matched the level of the pre-pandemic situation yet. Muhammed Asif Khan said, “Catering sales are still a fraction of the usual scenario before the pandemic for Alpha Catering. Currently, sales are less than 50 per cent of our usual times.”

Most of the restaurants are running with lower sales compared to the same period of the previous year. Co-founder of Chillox Faiz said, “At present our sales are around 80 per cent compared to last year this time. Takeaway orders have increased by 15-20 per cent than the usual times but dine-in customers have decreased by 30-40 per cent.”

According to a report of the Strategy Watch, Bangladesh restaurant industry is worth Tk 45 billion and is projected to contribute 2.1 per cent to the country’s GDP by 2021. However, the industry has been hit hard by the pandemic this year.

With the rise in sales, many restaurant owners are recovering from the losses and are expecting a steady growth in revenues. However, an increased number of customers entering restaurants raise the risk of coronavirus transmission. So, they should follow the slow- and -steady recovery theory and maintain all health guidelines so that customers return with trust.

The writer is an undergraduate student at IBA, University of Dhaka.

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