The coronavirus pandemic has left many business sectors in economic distress and the food industry is no different. To address the odds of this situation and present their concerns, the Bangladesh Restaurant Owners Association (BROA) organised an online press conference on Zoom recently.
President Khondokar Ruhul Amin, Secretary General M Rezaul Karim Sarker and Treasurer Taufiqul Islam presented their concerns in the online video conference. Senior Vice President of Women's Chamber and entrepreneur Sangeeta Ahmed was also present in the session, moderated by Syed Mohammad Andalib, the Publicity Secretary of BROA.
According to the association, the most vulnerable ones in this industry are the small-scale food shops and their daily wage earners. "Most highway hotels or small biryani shops, who hire cooks or waiters on daily wages, have not been able to operate in months," said Secretary General M Rezaul Karim Sarker. "Thus, their staff are jobless and even struggling to get new work as everything is closed since March. However, we don't have any means to help them and our pockets are running empty too."
Different struggles and problems that restaurants, sweet shops, fast food trains, and even small hotels are currently faced with, were addressed during the meeting. "Restaurant business is on the verge of collapsing as the bigger ventures might at least be able to operate on a notably low scale but small local businesses have been completely closed due to the pandemic," shared Syed Mohammad Andalib who is also the owner of the restaurant Baburchi.
The situation in Dhaka-based restaurants is no different in this case. "We are struggling to even pay basic expenses like rent and staff salaries as we have been only providing takeaways since March 23. Now that we are allowed to open for only a designated timespan, taking care of hygiene and making the customers feel safe is our prime responsibility. However, this closure has left most restaurant owners with almost no liquid cash," mentions Ashfaq Rahman Asif, Managing Director of Tarka Restaurant.
He further went on to discuss the current issues. "Loan procedures are also difficult to pursue in this pandemic. Thus, most of us are only left with two choices-- either to close it down completely or to just cut down on costs such as salaries and rents. Soon, we might have to let our staff, the ones we have trained over the years, go and close down ventures to cut down rent costs. As a result, we will be back to where we had started from and all our efforts will go in vain."
The association presented 5 points and requested the Prime Minister of the country to take their plea into consideration. They requested the authorities to let restaurants and any other food-based businesses to stay open from 6 am in the morning till midnight on the condition that the restaurant owners will ensure proper hygiene and social distancing at their shops.
As the restaurants have not been in operation since March 22 until recently, the owners requested to facilitate installments for their pending and upcoming utility costs till December 2020. They feel the best way to overcome this loss is if the government allows them a 10 percent due clearance from the first month of 2021 along with their respective monthly charges for that time. Even though the business owners were promised incentives, restaurant owners are yet to receive any such aid. They want the process to be soon turned into action.
Many workers from the food industry, including daily labourers, are almost starving and the owners are almost out of cash. Like all other sectors, they should also receive aid and support from the government. To help overcome the upcoming losses, BROA is asking for a budget of BDT ten thousand crore, which will help them sustain, if not close down, their businesses.