In Bangladesh, the catering industry used to be one of the most revenue generating industries in the peak season of weddings from September to December. However, amid the coronavirus pandemic, the industry is now in great uncertainty suffering millions of losses.
For instance, the sales of one of the leading caterers in the capital Fakruddin decreased by 60 per cent, said Abdul Khalaque, Managing Director of the company. Last season, Fakruddin used to get orders for 2-3 events in a day whereas now they are hardly getting the same in a week. The poor numbers of wedding events taking place in the country right now following the pandemic is behind this, claimed Khalaque.
Even the clients who are holding a few events have decreased the capacity to a great length. Previously, a wedding event used to welcome 1000-2000 guests while now we can only see 100-200 guests at a programme. Also earlier people used to arrange multiple events to celebrate a wedding such as haldi, wedding, reception etc. But now even if one holds a programme right now, he/she is adhering to only one event to take care of it all.
Khalaque further urged that picnics are off now. Year-closing corporate events are not taking place either. Whereas these used to be great revenue generators for caterers. They used to have advanced bookings. But now they have zero, claimed Khalaque.
Md Salam Miah, Proprietor of Salam Catering Service, also agreed and expressed the same ill-fate due to the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic. He mentioned that Salam Catering's sales have dropped down to 10 per cent only compared to last year. During the first ten months of COVID-19, the caterer suffered BDT 20 lac loss every month.
Thus, he had to turn to bank loans, sighed the proprietor. However, the loan the company received did not include any subsidy the government announced for different industries. This is where policy support is necessary, claimed Salam Miah. He also blamed the industry's association for not being too strong or coordinated to uphold their claims to the government.
Because each catering company or a club which has its own convention hall comprises thousands of employees - 100 waiters, 40 chefs, janitors, electricians etc, expressed the proprietor. The crisis ultimately led Salam Miah to lay off 20 per cent of the workforce. However, Khalaque of Fakruddin said he did not go through such misfortune luckily.
To further mitigate the losses, the caterers now have turned to home deliveries. They said the response has been good.
However, if the situation remains as such, it will be difficult for the catering industry to survive, said both caterers. Salam Miah urges government's subsidy on bank loans. If the interest rate can be brought down to 5 per cent instead of 9 per cent, it will at least help the caterers to survive those who are seeking loans.
There are many small caterers who are failing to meet ends. The responsibility lies in the leading ones to help them sustain, said Salam Miah.
Khalaque of Fakruddin said policy support in licensing works is also a dire need. Also the vat on finished goods in other countries is 7-10 percent whereas in Bangladesh it is 15 per cent. This is another concern for the caterers.
Salam Miah mentioned they have a club committee which is now working to address these issues to the government - an effort to ease the pain the businesses are suffering at present without any clear sight when it will end.
If government provides support then the caterers would be able to recover the losses in 1-2 years, but without it, there is no hope, no light at the end of the dark tunnel they are barely surfing through right now.
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