Sales 'slow cook' at restaurants

Passage to Asia on Ariapita Avenue, Port of Spain plans to resume in-house dining on June 22.  -
Passage to Asia on Ariapita Avenue, Port of Spain plans to resume in-house dining on June 22. -

Even as many people return to work, restaurants have not seen an increase in customers or sales.

On June 1 the public sector, professional services, and retail establishments, including malls, reopened after months of covid19 stay-at-home restrictions.

Also on June 1, hotel restaurants were allowed to serve hotel guests in their outdoor seating areas providing social distancing and other covid19 restrictions were observed. And previously, on May 21, the manufacturing and construction sectors re-opened for business.

The manager of one Port of Spain restaurant said there was “no big adjustment” in its curbside, delivery, or walk-in sales. She said there had been “peaks and valleys” throughout the period, but in general sales were consistent. She added that she did not expect things to change soon, as many people did not have disposable income to spend and, in fact, some were still waiting for grants from the government to pay for their immediate needs.

Owner of Passage to Asia, Dipchan Persad had a similar experience. He said there was no change in sales at his Chaguanas restaurant, and was not expecting any rush of customers on June 22 when restaurants would be allowed to once again provide in-house dining. His restaurant at Ariapita Avenue, Port of Spain is currently food sold by the pound for pick up.

Passage to Asia owner Dipchan Persad checks food servers at his restaurant on Ariapita Avenue, Port of Spain where food is currently sold by the pound for pick up. He is preparing for in-dining services at the Avenue and his Chaguanas restaurant on June 22. -

He said people would still be cautious about being out in public but he was still making preparations for reopening.

Tables would be spaced to allow physical distancing, hand sanitiser would be available to customers as they enter, and the staff would have to wear masks and gloves. He added that customers would still have to wear masks as they enter and leave, although they would be removing them at the tables.

Chef Brigette Joseph, chef consultant at 5 The Eatery in Maraval, said the restaurant’s covid19 regulations would be similar to Persad’s. To further instil the need for cleanliness however, during the time all food establishments were closed, the staff was mandated to undergo international food safety training in preparation for reopening.

5 the Eatery on Saddle Road, Maraval is currently open for pick up orders. Dining is due to resume on June 22. -

However, she said in the past week as people got back to work, there was a noted drop in sales.

“People are back out to work, so they may cook food to take to work and would generally try to get back into their routines, especially as they have to pay for gas and transport again.”

The owner of Canboulay in San Fernando said sales on Monday were worse than the week before, but the restaurant was keeping active on social media to stay visible.

On covid19 regulations on in-house dining, he said he was sure there would be discussions with the Health Ministry so he was awaiting the official policy on how to approach the situation.

However, he said he was considering several additional options. He may arrange for a member of staff to open the front doors so customers would not have to touch them, for partitions to be placed between tables, regular servicing and cleaning of filters of the air condition units, and possibly using extractor fans so as not to recirculate the same air.

An employee arranges chairs and tables at 5 The Eatery on Saddle Road in Maraval in preparation for when restaurants reopen fully on June 22. PHOTOS BY SUREASH CHOLAI
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“It will definitely add to our costs. But the country is not out of the covid19 woods just yet. This is something that wouldn’t just go away.

"But people still need to live. We will try our best to keep customers safe and have them feel safe.”

Hotel restaurants too are feeling the pinch and are still deciding how they are going to operate within covid19 regulations.

Marketing manager at the Hilton Trinidad Dominique Mc Clashie said the hotel would reopen to the public on June 15 and with that it would also open Fresh Connection, a new "grab’n go" concept in the hotel lobby, so guests could avoid unnecessary contact with others if they wished.

She added that the outdoor restaurant, Cascadoo Bar and Grille, and the Herbs and Spices Restaurant would resume operation soon after the hotel, “with social distancing set-up and a creative menu concept embracing the covid19 measures to continue to focus on our guests’ safety.”

A staff member at Courtyard by Marriott in PoS said since the Prime Minister announced hotel guests could use outdoor dining, no one had taken the opportunity to do so. However, there were many calls from non-guests seeking information about the restaurant and hoping to get reservations.

Diana Cohen-Chan, director at Kapok Hotel in St Clair, told Newsday its restaurant, Kava, has outdoor seating, but the only guests who used it did so to celebrate a birthday. No other guest requested in-house dining but, as at the Marriott, a lot of interest in dining was expressed by non-guests.

However, she said, when it came to fully reopening on June 22, each restaurant would have decisions to make, whether to operate as before, with a reduced menu, or to reopen at all.

She said she already heard several restaurants say they would not reopen because the business was too uncertain. She said restaurants could not survive on take-out, delivery and curbside only, but business owners could not know if customers would return, since many people were financially affected, and to what extent there was a change in consumer behaviour.

Cohen-Chan said Kapok’s management only recently received the Health Ministry’s protocols that restaurants had to follow. She said it was “a lot of stuff,” which was expected, because food safety was involved. However, she said all restaurants would have to shift their mode of operation, and that may involve training.

“This pandemic has changed the landscape of how we do business.

"People are still hesitant about going out so we expect things will not pick up the way they were prior to our shutdown. There may be less traffic because of the fact that people are living differently.

"Then we also have to social-distance the clients, so you may be seating much fewer, and some restaurants are already not very large, so if they can only seat 50 per cent it may not be worth it.

"It’s really an unknown territory which we are charting.”

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