With the postponement of the opening of restaurants for ‘regular’ business, there seems now no doubt that the dining out business will be mauled by the pandemic. My husband and I, who eat out almost daily, are usually on first-name terms with the waiters and chefs of most of the establishments and we are hearing worrying things from those who are still here as well as those who have been sent back home to wait out the storm. One specialist chef who was sent home just before May for a “Ramadan break” is not yet back and has been told by his bosses that they will give him a call after January 2021 – if they stay afloat till then.
Meanwhile, business at most restaurants is limping as the really exotic dishes go off the menu due to lack of expertise or demand and most of us are left to please ourselves with ‘daal chawal’, the subcontinent’s shorthand for basic food.
There are rumours flying that many restaurants are doing brisk business with takeaway and home deliveries in partnership with a couple of ‘dial-a-meal’ services. After all, they don’t have to invest in disposable plates and cutlery, staff masks and face shields which eats into profit margins. However, those who run restaurants know that eating out is about the ambience and takeout orders barely cover half the running cost. And then, the big brand deliverers take a hefty percentage of the total billed amount and also expect a minimum amount of business per month from the restaurant. All of this ends up eating into the profits of the restaurants and making hollow claims of the home-delivery success story.
Next to shopping malls, Bahrain is a kingdom of restaurants and in our heyday, we were spoilt for choice. With the Internet boom, talented home chefs too joined the space and there was a healthy business line in home-cooked meals and food-industry small businesses in incubators. This being the case, the government must focus more on supporting the local restaurant business which employs so many people and represents the dreams of so many Bahraini entrepreneurs. How about underwriting local restaurant costs with the delivery companies or capping (at least for the next four months) the percentage that these companies can charge for their services?
And you, dear reader, while we are at it, don’t just dump the whole responsibility on the government and shrug away your role in sustaining your favourite restaurant. No, I’m not asking us all to shut our home kitchens and order pizza or curry daily. We must remove our blinkers which make it difficult to acknowledge the delivery men, chefs and all those working in this industry as frontliners just like anybody else who can’t dial in their day’s work from home but has to actually physically turn up. They run the gamut of risk from the virus for you and me, so do please be generous with your tips and hold your annoyance if the pizza comes a few minutes later than it should. If you are ordering from an enterprising home chef, especially a woman, treat her talent on par with a man’s – most women complain that they are expected to charge less because they are not seen as ‘professionals’. We have as much of a responsibility in building the eco-system of support for the restaurant business as the government – if you are a gourmet, you have a responsibility beyond your taste-buds and the time to show that is now.