After three months of stagnation, the restaurant industry was given a restart on Monday.
Although long awaited, the resumption of service was far from smooth as many operators, if they managed to return to operation at all.
Fast-food chain Wendy’s despite its promises on social media to see their patrons on July 19, would instead have to place another post stating that it would be unable to reopen on Monday as it had not receive the required shipments on time.
Wendy’s said, “Our shipment of raw materials has been delayed and that is critical to us serving you the entire menu with our quality ingredients.”
Kentucky Fried Chicken, opened their 60th restaurant, one day after their Charlotte and Duke Street restaurant was razed by fire, but they too opened with limited menu options and increased prices which raised the eyebrows of a few.
Re-opening day also meant closing down day for one popular restaurant as the COVID-19 pandemic claimed another victim in Hakka Restaurant & Bar in Woodbrook.
Like Chaud, which closed a couple weeks prior, Hakka had been a game changer when it emerged on Taylor Street 11 years ago, introducing Indian-style Hakka Chinese cuisine to the country.
Yet also like Chaud the brand has opted to focus on its satellite grab and go spin off Hakka Express as opposed to the traditional dining experience, at least until the pandemic subsides.
In a social media post the restaurant said, “For those who enjoyed wining and dining in the ambience of our fabulous Hakka Restaurant, you won’t be disappointed for we have also embarked on a new venture that would provide just that. In the upcoming months, we will open new doors to a modern restaurant concept, which will be conveniently located at Brentwood Mall in Chaguanas. This amazing indoor and outdoor dining experience will, of course, be made available when COVID restrictions have been lifted.”
While restrictions have meant most restaurants that depend on fine dining remain dead in the water, the expected surge in sales upon of the return of curbside and delivery service, just didn’t happen when food outlets resumed service.
Chef Brigette Joseph, restaurant consultant and food safety auditor, is hopeful that the lack of sales is related to the timing of the reopening.
“The re-opening has been slow on the uptake so far, as in I guess because re-opening the middle of the month, people just don’t have that disposable income as yet to partake… that or… which I hope is the reason, that they are being cautious with regards to the gathering and the crowding at food places. So they haven’t come out in full force as yet, but it’s been okay so far,” said Joseph on Tuesday, the second day of the reopening.
She said many within the industry were relieved but reopening brought about major challenges and expenses.
“Everybody is relieved but also obviously exhausted because reopening after a three-month closure is very tough… because you have to restock the entire restaurant which is very expensive in addition to the cost you would have from being closed for so long. You have the cost of purchasing every single thing from scratch again. So it’s like opening a brand new restaurant again,” she said
For managing director of Domino’s T&T, Daniel Fakoory it represents an ominous sign of the true state of the country’s economy coming out of the most recent lockdown of the wider business sector.
“It’s not as busy as we anticipated it would be. It’s an indication that the economic activity of the country has taken a tremendous hit not only from COVID but every sector of the economy being affected. So the fact is we did not reopen with a bang as expected. All of the food outlets that reopened yesterday were expecting it to be a little bit busier than it was, so that is the initial feedback is that it has not been as busy as we expected it to be. Which as I said that the economy of the country is severely suffering,” he said.
The pizza franchise would know more than most when curbside and delivery sales are down as unlike many other restaurants, that’s how they mainly do business.
The two brands under the umbrella of Quick Service Holdings, Pita Pit and Dominos are not heavily reliant on dine in customers as many other across the country. So much so he describes them as “Perfectly designed for the covid environment and the new normal we are experiencing.”
“We are primarily a delivery company as, you know, yes, delivery pizza expert and we are highly digital so digital and delivery that’s our core competency. So we’re perfectly suited for the environment going forward. So we’re pretty healthy in that regard. We do not rely much on dine in customers, it accounted for about 5 per cent of our sales. So, doing without it is not too much of an issue for both our brands Domino’s and Pita Pit. Pita Pit is a fast casual grab-and-go. Not much dine and required,” he said.
Unlike many other established brands in the industry, Domino’s did not have to scramble to organise an online platform for delivery and curbside services. They have had the service in place since 2018 and with that advantage has actually seen a increase in sales when the initial delivery and curbside only order was enforced last year.
He believes the pandemic has only shown the wider industry what Domino’s had recognised earlier concerning consumer trends.
“We saw the trend coming in the last couple of years towards online ordering, more delivery options with third party aggregators. We saw it happening, it just brought the future five years ahead, Much quicker than we anticipated,” he said, noting that being one of the early adapters even created more sales for them during the pandemic when restaurants were asked to operate within prescribed limits.
“Being first to market, we were a year and half ahead of everyone else where online ordering especially the major players in the pizza industry. We were a year and a half nearly two years ahead because we launched in August 2018,” said Fakoory. This allowed the franchise to fine tune their online services to make it one of the easiest to use for customers.
Fakoory said that perhaps a clearer idea could be seen next week, when much of the working population would see their month end salaries arrive but he was grateful that they were given the opportunity to open now.
“Yeah, definitely. But the sooner the better. To wait until payday wouldn’t have made much sense in any case, you know, only more damage would have been done. So there was no perfect time to shut down. There is no perfect time to reopen. This is one of those things you had to do as soon as possible,” said Fakoory.
The brand is also hopeful that the fact they have not had to raise their prices would work in their favour.
However, Fakoory noted that while their food supplies have not increased, their plans to expand have been affected by other expenses.
“We have two new stores that we are opening and we have seen equipment prices skyrocket from 15 to 25 per cent increases in as little as couple of weeks. So too with construction and the construction material that go into making these stores. Prices have increased, scarcity of certain products have become an issue. So there are a lot of challenges apart from the prices of food arising out of this situation,” he said.