It’s fair to say that few of us could have predicted the unfathomable impact of COVID-19 and its catastrophic collision with the global economy, our healthcare system, and society at large. In a New York minute, terms like social-distancing and self-isolation have become part of our daily lexicon. With less-than-optimistic hopes for the future, or near future at least, the world as we know it has changed overnight.
New rules and regulations across most industries are being implemented at alarming rates, which means that the un-chartered waters of a dynamic, fluid reality have become our new normal. With unprecedented efforts taking place to obliterate the spread of the Corona Virus, the global restaurant industry, no stranger to volatility, has officially come under siege. As food and beverage outlets lie at the heart of our communities, everyone from owners, employees, chefs, and social media influencers are scrambling to curtail the very real threat to their existence.
Five local restaurateurs share their insights on COVID-19, it’s impact on business, and the implications within the context of a vulnerable F&B climate.
Samer Hamadeh – Founder, Akiba Dori
“When school closures were announced we quickly ramped up our new delivery-only plan to prepare for a month or two of business disruption because it was obvious that more curfews were coming, and rightly so- the only way to defeat the spread of this pandemic was to work based on information & clear instructions. We have since developed a delivery-only pizza menu that we have started rolling out already; survival now is a day-by-day process and there is not much thinking about the week after.
This is probably the single biggest global catastrophe event to hit the hospitality industry, not taking into account wars of course, and the effects will be felt for the next few months if not till the end of the year. The amount of people that will lose their income for the next few months will be staggering & I really hope they are supported by their communities in some shape or form.
I’d also like to note that throughout this ordeal, myself and several other restaurant and bar owners have been in close contact with officials from Dubai Tourism, Dubai Municipality and other UAE government entities on what needs to be done and the response from both local and federal governments has been supportive and swift.”
Natasha Sideris – Founder & Restaurateur, The Tasha’s Group
“We have a very motivated and passionate team that is going above and beyond to come up with solutions as well as execute them. Technology has certainly helped us communicate and our Whats App Groups are on fire at the moment allowing us to communicate and make immediate changes amongst all of our 24 locations. These solutions include setting up a dedicated mobile site where customers can view our menus on their own phones, putting in place a tashas “at home” initiative where customers can order family size meals from our stores, and, for the first time, allowing deliveries by Deliveroo and Uber Eats which will come online early next week. We need to do these things for our customers – but also to protect our staff and keep our business going in times like these.
The impact on the industry has obviously been devastating and the impact has been immense. Restaurants are a turnover based business and this is how we are able to have the funds to pay our staff and carry out our business. If the turnover isn’t there, the knock on effect is very serious and affects everyone – including the supply chain.
In dealing with customer uncertainty, we have put a number of things in place to ease people concerns – including hand sanitisers at the entrance of every store as well as at waiter’s stations. We have trained all of our staff about the virus and what measures they must adhere to on a constant basis. Prior to shifts, our staff is required to have a thermal scan as well. Of course, we are communicating this on a constant basis to ease our customer’s uncertainty.”
Omar Shihab – GM, Boca
“Things are changing day by day, minute by minute. Over the last few days we’ve seen decisions come in waves, so we’re just hoping that things calm down and we can continue to operate. Obviously, it’s extremely difficult to operate in these conditions, but we have been asked to stay open. With so many rules and regulations, it becomes almost impossible to operate a normal restaurant. Having said that, we are contractually obliged to stay open – there’s huge loss of business.
What are we trying to do? We’re trying to reduce the staff and have given them forced paid leave. Everyone who has pending holidays has started taking them. We are working with a skeleton team at the moment as a rehearsal over the next few days. Some of the external outsourced elements have also been reduced. We’ve kept all communications open and are talking to our suppliers on a daily basis about business and what this means for some of the dues that will come at the end of the month. At the same time, we have sped up previous plans to launch two virtual delivery brands.
Things are changing, but we still have business, there are still people in the DIFC. And that’s currently what we are doing. All of this is above everything in terms of regulations regarding hygiene and cleanliness here in Boca – we are doing double what’s required in addition to the regulations that have come from the municipality.”
Reif Othman – Chef & Founder, Reif Kushiyaki
“We have always upheld good hygiene practises and have been flexible in the way we do conduct ourselves at Reif Kushiyaki. Therefore, we are not very affected by the changes in the market. We are now offering takeaway services and have been sanitizing and disinfecting our premises very regularly, and close daily from 4-6pm to have a deep cleaning.
Finance-wise, we are good and have been very smart in cost savings since day one. During these quiet moments, I’m taking this time to train the staff with our new dishes for our new outlet in Nakheel Mall and our Ramadan offerings. So we will keep ourself busy. All we need now is for landlords to reduce the rents across the board.”
Claudia Nemes Shetty – Operations Manager, Rüya
“Business gradually reduced and then from one day to the other it was a big hit. Lots of restrictions and measures had to be taken, bars had to be closed in order for guests not to mingle with a 2 meter distance between each table. Temperatures had to be taken of all staff before entering and we also take temperatures of our guests and sanitizers are offered – sanitizers have been placed all over the restaurant. We are giving the option of take out and soon we will be doing deliveries via Careem.
Of course, we also have to take cost cutting measures like sending staff on leave (for now paid), giving advanced days in lieu, and cancelling entertainment. We are also offering a special menu at a special price every day of the week. We have added additional cleaning and sanitizing schedules.
The good thing is that everyone is very cooperative, including our guests. The team has pulled together even more and the team spirit is up. Our guys are going beyond their actual duties and are trying to help. It’s also not easy to still keep a positive spirit and to keep the panic down. Looking at Rüya, Dubai at the moment is still better off than the UK. The UAE government is really trying to support the restaurant businesses, even though a lot has already closed down for the next few months. I guess we all have to hope for the best.”
For information on restaurant timings and/or delivery options, click the Instagram links below:
*Special thanks to Samer Hamadeh, Natasha Sideris, Omar Shihab, Reif Othman, Claudia Nemes Shetty for their time and valuable insight.
Images – Reif Kushiyaki & Ruya taken by Tara Atkinson Photography
Images – Akiba Dori, Tasha’s Group, & Boca provided courtesy of their restaurant groups