Mamak restaurants ponder business under new normal

With the MCO in its 6th week, restaurant owners begin to plan for a new normal of social distancing and probable shorter hours, but there is currently little to work with

by NUR HANANI AZMAN/ pic by ARIF KARTONO

THE mamak shop is one of many Malaysian cultural and business landmarks that will be hard-pressed to adapt to a post-Covid-19 world of social distancing and people staying away from public places.

The ever-present Indian Muslim eatery is found in every corner of every town in Malaysia, based on their business formula of fast service and affordable food at all hours.

Their customers come for more than just food because mamak is where Malaysians meet, the very thing that has been affected by the Movement Control Order (MCO) designed to beat the coronavirus.

Since it was implemented in March, business has dried up as mamak’s normal clientele are forced to stay home. Even though restaurants can provide takeaway food, revenue has dropped by 80%, according to the Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association (Presma) president Datuk Jawahar Ali Taib Khan.

Over the past weeks, the revenue of the Presma’s members has dropped by 80%. At the same time, they had to pay salaries, utilities and other bills, he said.

But with the MCO in its sixth week, restaurant owners are beginning to plan for a new normal of social distancing and probably shorter business hours, but there is currently little to work with.

Ashraf Ariff, a partner at Ali’s Bistro, said there is too much uncertainty at the moment to plan properly.

“What’s more important is we need a clear idea of how things are going to be after the MCO for us to decide what to do next.

“Will we be allowed to operate 24 hours again? Will dine-in be allowed again? Too many uncertainties for now,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

“The whole thing that makes mamak restaurants attractive to customers is the fact that we operate 24 hours a day and it’s a place you can hang out with your friends any time of the day.

“Without those two factors, it’ll be hard to sustain our business.” Restoran Hakim MD Datuk Hakimsa Abdul Karim said business is even worse than during previous Ramadhans.

Hakimsa said his restaurant now opens only three hours per day, from 4.30pm until 7.30pm, compared to last year when it opened until dawn to accommodate Muslims partaking in their last meal before fasting.

He said around 95% of Restoran Hakim’s customers in Shah Alam are Muslims.

“Our business operation is affected, but I believe it’s better for us to follow the National Security Council. We don’t want another new cluster or cases which later will lead to another extension of the MCO.”

Presma’s Jawahar Ali said the association is proposing a sales and service tax break for small businesses to mitigate the economic effect of Covid-19.

He said with a low tax rate, restaurant owners will be able to pass on the savings to customers, who are mostly low- and middle-income Malaysians.

“We are not a restaurant for the high-income earners with air-conditioned rooms, but the menu we provide is the choice of Malaysians.

“Hence, with a low tax rate, we are confident that it will help the people to enjoy affordable meals and that extra money can be used for other purposes as well,” he said in a statement.

Presma also suggested that the government lower the levy for work permit holders, tax exemptions for 2019 and 2020, and delaying the implementation of the PCP tax collection.

“Nevertheless, Presma truly thanked the government for the effort and stimulus package towards the whole of Malaysia when we are faced with a situation we had never imagined.”