Restaurants in the UAE are coping with the sudden loss of income. Fine dining establishments are particularly hit. Image Credit: Getty Images

Dubai: The COVID-19 outbreak had just about cleaned up the business of UAE’s restaurant sector. And the restrictions on movement between 8pm to 6am has further eaten into their delivery and takeaway orders.

Even fine dining restaurants are “offering delivery and creating new menus,” said a spokesperson at Eat App, the booking service provider for F&B.

And more drastic measures could be to “close down completely and furlough staff to cut their costs to zero. And reduce expenditures by looking at what other options they have to save money, including negotiating rents, VAT, food costs, etc..”

Steep fall in traffic

By Eat App estimates, last month, restaurants across the region saw an overall 60 per cent decline in customers before the complete shutdown on most commercial establishments.In Dubai, “restaurants saw an additional 20 per cent drop when all bars, lounges and clubs were ordered to shut down,” it adds.

“UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia all saw massive dips in restaurant performance in the days following the first case of the virus infection in the countries. The real effects did not become apparent on restaurant performance until decisions were made to protect the public.”

Eat App based the findings on the aggregate reservations and walk-ins through the top 1000 plus fine dining restaurants in the region. According to Nezar Kadhem, CEO, “ Compared to other industries, F&B businesses typically have the shortest remaining lifespan once revenue hits zero.

“And so we stand by all our restaurant partners during this difficult time and will do everything we can to help them make it through to the other side.”

Not just sitting around

It’s still an unknown as to when businesses of all stripes get back into action as the virus spread settles down. But for now, the people at Eat App are working on ways to ease the pain of its restaurant clients. These include

• Making available some of features for free, which would help restaurants to communicate with clients/patrons.

• Get consumers involved in helping restaurants survive. “To this end, we are launching a new voucher service that allows people to buy discounted vouchers at restaurants and then use them when they reopen,” the Eat App spokesperson said. “This gives restaurants access to this vital funding upfront and then customers benefit when social distancing restrictions come to an end.”

• Help with delivery - Many of the fine-dining restaurants don’t usually offer delivery. “But now that is changing. We’re providing marketing support and advice through our blog and social media to help the public stay informed regarding changes at their favorite destinations.”

“We want to encourage all UAE residents to support restaurants right now so they can re-open in the future,” the spokesperson said. “Whether that’s ordering delivery from places that don’t normally deliver, buying gift cards, or posting on social media. Restaurants are at the heart of social life in the UAE… and we hope people will come out and support them.”

Eat App
How business just tailed off for restaurants after the COVID-19 became a reality to be dealt with in the Middle East. These are based on bookings made through Eat App data. Image Credit: Credit - Eat App data
A regional grouping for F&B
The Middle East Restaurant Association (MERA) has been launched with the express purpose of framing the “agenda for the UAE’s restaurant industry”, according to a statement issued by the Global Restaurant Investment Forum (GRIF).

“Now more than ever, the Middle East’s F&B community needs to come together and support each other through these challenging times,” the statement added. “MERA will be a vital source of help, advice and information that concerned business-owners and members of the industry can come to for assistance and guidance.

“The association aims to look after everyone in the industry, at all levels, not just owners and management.”

A 10-member founding board has also been set up. The grouping is currently in the final stages of registering the non-profit incorporated organisation (NPIO) as a legal entity.