In response to the current situation around COVID-19, foodpreneur Nadine Benchaffai highlights how important it is to support people – the restaurant and café staff – to tide over the crisis, while undertaking all possible measures to stay afloat.
Benchaffai owns and operates home-grown brands such as Taqado Mexican Kitchen, Park House Dubai and Circle Café.
How are you taking care of your people?
Benchaffai: Of foremost importance is to ensure safety for our people and consumers. That’s why, it is rational to stay at home. We invest significantly in our people, and letting them go is an absolute no. When business picks up, we will need our people; of course, the normalcy timeline is hard to predict right away. For now, we are paying them enough for subsistence but allowing and encouraging them to stay at home, since the restaurants are not fully functional for dine-in. In addition, we have decided to provide them food every day through our central kitchen. Even before the situation worsened and travel embargoed, we managed to send some of our people home with their basic salary. We will possibly do the same for some more staff, once the travel ban is lifted. We are ensuring that they are taken care of. Now, the idea is to have a cooling off period and equipping ourselves optimally to get ready for better times, hopefully towards mid of this year.
What kind of relief are you getting as a business to stay afloat?
Benchaffai: We have approached and requested the authorities to reduce and defer payments – rent, fees as well as VAT. Think about it – we already have a 30-outlet network, with three new brands in DIFC put on hold. Some of the authorities have already announced relief and stimulus packages, but as situation changes – which is happening almost daily at this point – we will know better about the fine prints. Overall, as a bright spot, it is heartening to see some stakeholders from the local restaurant community standing together in the face of the current crisis.
Are you seeing enough increase in online orders to partially recover losses on dine-in?
Benchaffai: Our delivery hasn’t increased necessarily. In case of Taqado Mexican Kitchen near the business centres, the number has declined because majority of people are working from home. Financially, dine-in versus delivery is not sustainable, because it doesn’t cover overheads or central kitchen cost, especially now that there is no sales predictability. In addition, the food delivery platforms are still charging high commissions. Discount-driven approach by these aggregators are hurting us, because sometimes the restaurants are charged commission on the full price of the food items. In any case, our business is affected. And this will hurt the delivery platforms too as much as the restaurants. Case in point: since Tortilla and Wagamama shut down in the UK, Deliveroo has requested their reinstatement. Delivery platforms can’t work in the absence of the restaurants.