In mid-June, with the great epidemic outbreak in Macau, the government moved from not recommending meals inside restaurants to banning them altogether. The restaurant industry was therefore the first to be hit, many restaurants were forced to make deliveries and offer all kinds of discounts on their social networks. Currently we can see numerous couriers from these food delivery platforms on the streets. PLATFORMA interviewed owners of two restaurants, in Macau and Taipa, to find out how they transformed their businesses and survived this pandemic.
The Bookand cafe, in the Southern district, has been in operation for about three months. The owner, James, studied multimedia, so he always wanted to include some theatrical and literary elements along with the food and drinks in his cafe. During the day it’s a bookstore, at lunchtime a restaurant and at night a bar.
Although the book sales aspect is not very profitable, for James it is an essential element and therefore includes other elements of stable income, such as the restaurant and bar, to support the cafe. The owner also plans to organize other activities in the future, such as workshops, exhibitions and performances to attract more customers.
James admits that the biggest burden is income. “The last six months have been unprecedented in Macau. It was the first time I opened the store but I couldn’t do business.”
Even with the pandemic, the cafe continued to maintain its characteristic of promoting reading and in a post about home deliveries on its social media page they write: “Books can be purchased individually, but food and drinks must be accompanied by at least one book!”
James shares that the first day of sales out went well. “Business is better than weekday meals. Usually customers come to drink a coffee and read a book, spend a few dozen patacas and spend the afternoon here, but now that every purchase has to be accompanied by a book, despite the fact that the number of sales is higher, the number of customers .” The owner, who has never worked in the tourism sector, believes that the local market has potential, but it still has to develop.
That’s why he says that it took him a while to think of a way to integrate Bookand into the home delivery system. “That’s why buying books is mandatory, our priority is not just profit.” He adds that other restaurants have offered 50% promotions during the pandemic to attract customers, but James has resisted associating his business with numbers. He prefers to adopt a different philosophy, promoting creative sales rather than lowering prices.
During the epidemic outbreak, coffee was not present on any delivery platform, it was the owner himself who made all deliveries. James saw it as a market survey, it offered him the opportunity to get to know the type of books his customers were buying.
Asked about his future prospects, James looks hopeful. “We joke: If there is someone who can make enough money from a cafe to pay a salary and rent, then it is also possible for a restaurant. In addition, we also have a store, we sell books, with all these elements it is possible. As long as I can handle the business, with the quality and stable income that we deserve, then I will continue.”
Macanese restaurant fights for survival
Florita Alves, manager of the Macanese restaurant La Famiglia, located in the historic center of Taipa, has a very different view of James. Opened 5 years ago, in 2017, its restaurant has an elegant decor, focused on local Macanese dishes, so it conveys a feeling of nostalgia.
Florita Alves believes that with the current economic situation in Macau, where local consumption power is weak, the ban on consumption inside restaurants has left a huge impact, where even delivery outside faces difficulties. Takeaway is the only solution in the pandemic, explains Florita Alves: “Of course, when you turn a restaurant into a takeaway service, we have to make changes to our team, stock and menu. As we tried to keep up with the pandemic, we continued to try to develop new dishes that could appeal to takeaway customers.”
Florita Alves believes that this transformation is difficult due to the differences between consumption within the restaurant and deliveries, in addition to the fact that takeaway depends on delivery platforms, which charge high commissions. “For every sale I make, the platform takes 20%, which I have to charge customers.” That’s why she admits she can’t follow the example of other restaurants that offer 60% or 50% discounts. “It’s not a healthy way of doing business,” she says.
That is why the manager does not see great future prospects for the restaurant with the gigantic impact of the pandemic: “It was not only this outbreak that impacted our restaurant, in other words, it all started in 2020, especially during September and October of last year and January of this year. year. The damage is now even greater because, in response to government recommendations, there is no longer consumption inside restaurants on June 19. We initially thought it would be something short, just a week or two long, so we were cooperative, however, given the severity of the current epidemic, I believe it will not be possible to operate normally for a long time.”
As a boss, employees are highly important. In times of crisis, in addition to business concerns, it is important to guarantee the subsistence of workers. Florita Alves points out that small restaurants don’t want to close, but they also don’t want to leave the staff without income, so they end up opening doors reluctantly. “As bosses, we have to live with the loss.”
Due to the pandemic, I didn’t want to have many employees working at the same time, so the team was divided into two groups, who work in shifts throughout the week. Florita Alves says: “I had to divide my team into two groups and ask them to take their annual vacation. However, the days off are not that many, in just over two weeks they had already been used up. In a situation like this, would you have to send them on unpaid leave, despite their already low salary? These leaves just create a vicious cycle and push employees into a corner.”
“The government measures are well conceived and broad, covering all members of the population, but if the government insists on this “zero tolerance” policy, I believe that it will not be possible for us to open doors for a long time”, Florita recalls when she moved to the current location. of the restaurant in early 2020, with hopes that the outbreak would be successfully tackled. “Although we found a place with a relatively low income, we are now practically unable to support it.”
Florita Alves continues: “You asked if the government measures helped us? Not so, it is an aid that is not sustainable in the long term. We have been suffering from this pandemic for about three years, the restaurant was opened 5, 3 years ago in a pandemic, I don’t see how it will be possible to continue for much longer.”
“The government’s attitude is quite good, with interest-free loans to small and medium-sized companies, but in fact since we applied for this loan we have been worried every day that we will not be able to pay the money back to the state. I believe that many small and medium-sized companies have also applied for loans.”
The Macanese fears that after the end of the pandemic, Macau will not be able to return to being a “gastronomic capital” with several shops and restaurants closing. “It’s not a pessimistic statement, it’s the reality we face, we can see the difficulties that the rest of the population faces. It is said that the 10 million measure can be spent on small and medium-sized companies, but the question is that this 10 million will only last us for two months, and then? What do we do next?” She adds: “The government has allocated a lot of resources, but they also have to find a balance. Are the measures currently implemented worth the resources spent on them?”