How Restaurant Owners Are Dealing With Corona Virus
To Lockdown or not to lockdown, that seems to be the million-dollar question these days. While Sindh, the second largest province in Pakistan, has decisively taken action and locked down the entire province for the next 15 days, the Federal Capital remains hopeful that Corona shall pass. Whatever the decision is regarding the lockdown, one thing is certain – the restaurant business’ will take a massive hit across the country.
I decided to speak to some of the owners of restaurants in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and get their views on the current situation, and how they coped first with a ban on no dine-in, and later with no takeaway and delivery. Let’s see what they had to say:
Renowned TV actor SYED JIBRAN is also a restaurant owner; in fact, he has a couple of restaurants in Islamabad namely 1969 and BLT. When we asked him about the sudden shift in business since the outbreak of the Corona Virus, this is what he had to say:
Syed Jibran: Times are tough and testing but then ‘when the going gets tough the tough get going’ so until we were open, we adapted to the scenario by making sure the service staff was sent home to stay indoors and we were keeping a regular check about the health of all our staff in case of any surprises. The staff updated through mobile services regarding their health and surroundings. As far as the dynamics of business were concerned we were indeed facing a low in our sales but hopefully, when the business resumes we will make up for the shortage Insha Allah.
Restaurants are facing a hit because first of no dine-in policy, and now with no delivery or takeaway. How was he dealing with the issue, while takeaway and delivery were still allowed?
Syed Jibran: The kitchen staff was reporting at the restaurant with very limited delivery staff when the takeaway and delivery were allowed. We made sure that their pick and drop were facilitated by our company car so that their interaction with the general public is minimum. Their hygiene requirements were carried out with explicit details, gloves, and masks were provided in the work area and handwashing was a must after every hour. The delivery staff was also well covered and instructed to not interact with customers in close contact. A proper distance was being maintained and we made sure that while delivering no part of the staff should be touching the customers even at the time of receiving the payments. Every day the reporting staff was checked for their temperature and their health was closely monitored by our in-house doctor.
I then approached IQBAL SIDDIQUI, the co-owner of Karachi’s newest restaurant Pesto about the sudden shift in the business.
Iqbal Siddiqui: Changing our business model in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak has been challenging to say the least. With no dine-in option at first, we were only relying on delivery but now even that has been stopped due to the Lockdown. Till we were doing at it, we ensured that food that was delivered maintained its quality and taste by the time it arrived at the customer’s doorstep, especially when they were located 20-30 min away. This also had an impact on the overall dining experience when customers were not able to enjoy their meal in an environment that we create at Pesto.
Did you take any special steps to make sure that both the customers and employees remain satisfied?
Iqbal Siddiqui: We have ensured that our staff remained clean and healthy with a special focus on personal hygiene. We also limited the social interaction for the staff and kept a check on their activities. Any medical assistance, if needed, was also the responsibility of our restaurant. Other than that we had developed SOPs for the cleanliness of our restaurant allowing no outside interactions to avoid contamination. We added suitable items in our delivery menu which could be delivered fresh to customers. We also used in-house riders to ensure food is delivered without any issues. Use of gloves, masks, hand sanitizers were made mandatory for every staff member in addition to frequent washing of hands and equipment. We also encouraged payments via credit card and riders could charge cards on the spot. Also if there was cash payment, our rider did not come in contact with the customer and currency notes were picked up from a distance.
Limiting the menu, ensuring online payment and ensuring personal hygiene, if every restaurant followed Pesto’s example, there wouldn’t have been a lockdown. I spoke with film and video director YASIR JASWAL who is the brain behind Jessie’s, the burger joint that first took Islamabad by storm, and then found customers in Lahore and Nathia Gali.
Yasir Jaswal: As of today, we have closed all our branches because we want our staff to stay home and stay safe. Until today, we had limited ourselves to takeaway and delivery like all the outlets in Islamabad. We opened Jessie’s late, and closed it early and ensured that the customers knew the timings through our Social media. We ensured that the workforce was minimal in every outlet be it in Islamabad, Lahore or KPK. Yes, the number of walk-ins decreased but that is something everyone is facing. We had taken steps like reducing the front staff and kitchen staff from 10 to 3 people at one time (sending the rest on leaves), relying on third party delivery companies (like we used to before Corona) and ensuring that the staff doesn’t come in physical contact with take-away customers. We also took temperatures of all workers teaching them how to pack the food after it was announced that dine-in wasn’t happening and the duty manager ensured that the place was completely clean and daily sanitized for the betterment of both the employees and customers.
What measures did your team take to provide services to customers at home, when they were doing that:
Yasir Jaswal: Till we were open, we clearly mentioned through our advertising that everyone should stay home, stay safe. Even before the government announced the closure of dine-In, we were telling our customers that we were open for takeaway and delivery, and were not promoting them to visit the premises and eat in groups. There were a few customers in Islamabad, Lahore and Nathia Gali who couldn’t cook for themselves and restaurants were their only option, so we stayed open for them and provided them food that too after following all guidelines.
Jaswal also spoke about his restaurant owner community, people who are taking a hit due to Corona, while continuing to provide food for their customers. He had an intelligent answer for that too, one that is valid for all restaurant owners, throughout the country.
Yasir Jaswal: People think that those in the food businesses are living an ideal life, and profiting on a daily basis, which isn’t true. The kind of taxation we have to go through, the sudden decline in buying power due to inflation, it has hit everyone hard and we the restaurant owners aren’t an exception. Some of the owners are in very bad shape and until and unless the government provides them some sort of relief, they might not be able to pay their employees on time. These people are at minimum wages and include guards, cleaning staff and kitchen assistants, whereas waiters depend on the tips they receive from dine-in customers. Thank God we have enough resources to sustain in such times but the Government has to think about the situation. I think by staying in, distancing and quarantining yourself is the only way to save from Corona Virus, but it is also the best way to save the livelihood of many.
Written by: Omair Alavi (@omair78)
There are three things that define Omair – Food. Films. Books (in that order). He doesn’t just love food, he also loves the story behind each dish, so be ready for an amalgamation of history and hunger!