UAE restaurant owners speak: They need us now
Get out and dine-in to keep food on the table.
It has been an extremely difficult few months for eateries across the country as, along with most businesses, they were forced to close to walk-in customers as part of the Covid-19 precautionary measures. Some have felt immense pressure, others have taken the time to focus on deliveries and create new menus for when the doors can once again open. What they all agree on, however, is a regular batch of patrons coming through the door now we're back up and running would help enormously.
For Abubakar Sharif, owner of Al Habib Pakistani restaurant on Hamdan Street in Abu Dhabi, this recent experience has been devastating. His property has been out of commission for about two months and many off-site catering contracts have been terminated.
"If people are only coming for takeaway, it helps but I need them to sit-in," Sharif said. "If it (the situation) becomes like before it would really help me. It can be good. Right now it is really hard that we can survive."
Sharif revealed the loss in income for a three-month blackout could total hundreds of thousands of dirhams, an unprecedented situation. His touching plea to coax diners back was only matched by its sincerity leading him to add the restaurant is currently up for sale (firstname.lastname@example.org) in the likelihood the drastic turn in fortune required should no materialise.
Jumeirah Lakes Towers's Bait Maryam was initially surprised at the speed in which everything changed when the sanitisation drive came in.
"It all happened in a matter of days," said managing director Nada Darraj. "It really affected the business and we had to look at it in a different way in what we called 'survival mode.'"
Innovation was key for Darraj. Given the Levantine restaurant is famed for its home-cooked, family recipe atmosphere, she and her team ramped up the production of frozen food deliveries for people to recreate the smells and ambiance at home.
"We had a good rate of normal deliveries too during Ramadan, but not as much as we usually do. With the aggregator's commission it also put us down."
In response to encouraging customers to return, Darraj believes highlighting safety measures is key, and can arguably play the ultimate trump card.
"My mum is always present here (in the restaurant)," she said. It is Darraj's mother's recipes, which give the destination its character. "If she didn't feel safe, we wouldn't operate."
Confident the pandemic would eventually subside, Marco Moller, owner of coffee shop, barbershop and workshop moto in Al Quoz, felt the time closed was an opportunity to grow the business.
"We haven't been lazy," the German said. "We came up with a new menu and it has forced us to expand into deliveries and refine the in-house bakery. We make the sourdough now! That's a good thing. You have hard times but you learn and come up with new things. We used that time to move forward to be more competitive with our food."
While discussing how welcome new guests would be, Moller had to praise his already loyal base. "Our shop works on regulars. We're not as popular as others on the main road, but step-by-step the regulars are coming back."
Nearby bistro Cassette, also in Al Quoz, is a popular breakfast haunt regularly attracting the Eggs Benedict set on a weekday morning. Its concept creator Hasan Roomi thinks returning to the table with friends is essential for both the industry and residents' mental health.
"Dining in places that are respecting the hygiene rules is a great relief for the customer in terms of some normality and change of scenery and also keeping the momentum of income for employees who work hard, often from pay cheque to pay cheque. Every little helps."
It was with an air of great optimism managing director of Paragon Restaurant Group, Sumesh Govind, looked to the future. Deliveries once his restaurants shut, he said, soon brought takings up to around half of what they would normally expect and Calicut Paragon Karama chefs were able to concentrate on developing Ayurvedic health boosting recipes under the umbrella term 'Immunity for the Community', which have become sought-after.
"It has only been a few days, but I can see a slow and steady flow," Govid said about reopening. "If we have 80 per cent of what we had before we can hold on for a few months because in another six months I know Dubai will bounce back to its old glory or even better."