In recent years, Dhaka was developing an eating-out culture for iftar and sehri, like in the cosmopolitan cities in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, with upscale restaurants and high-end hotels putting their best foot forward to lure in customers, who would otherwise be staying away for the whole month.
But the exciting trend was nipped in the bud this year thanks to the choking grip of coronavirus on the normal way of living for the best part of 2020.
As is often said, when life gives you lemon, make lemonade with it, and that is exactly what about 1,000 restaurants in the capital have started doing by reopening their restaurants on a partial basis and taking the assistance of the food delivery platforms.
Soon after the Dhaka Metropolitan Police eased some restrictions on eateries on April 28 for Ramadan, restaurant owners rushed to bring back workers, most of whom had left for their villages after being laid off or sent on leave without pay when the government announced countrywide shutdown on March 25.
Photo: Firoz Ahmed
“In the last three days we have been constantly receiving phone calls from restaurants that they have resumed their operations,” said Maliha M Quadir, founder and managing director of Shohoz.com.
Now, Shohoz Food, an arm of Shohoz, would deliver food from 1,000 restaurants. Three days ago, just about a dozen of the restaurants registered with the platform was open.
Shohoz Food delivers food from 5,000 restaurants in Dhaka and 1,000 in Chattogram.
“Orders will increase when people will come to know about the opening,” said Quadir, adding that the volume of orders has increased manifolds in the last three days.
The number of iftar delivery rose significantly since the reopening, said Nabila Mahboob, head of marketing at Pathao. Now, Pathao Food is making several thousand deliveries per day, mostly iftar items.
The demand for local iftar items like jilapi and halim is high. Besides, people are also making orders for dishes such as khichuri, tehari and tikka.
City Bank American Express cardholder will get 5 per cent cashback, up to Tk 300, for making orders through Pathao. There are some discounts and BOGO offers for availing food and products through the delivery platform during the fasting month of Ramadan.
Pathao has more than 7,000 registered restaurants in Dhaka, Chattogram and Sylhet and Mahboob hopes most of the restaurants will reopen this week.
“We have been getting a lot of orders for the last two days,” said AD Ahmad, chief executive and co-founder of HungryNaki, which has presence in Dhaka, Chattogram, Narayanganj, Sylhet and Cox’s Bazar.
However, the number of orders is significantly lower than that of last years, he said. Out of 11 city outlets of Star Kabab and Restaurant, seven resumed operations in the last few days.
Star Kabab and Restaurant in Banani caters more than 200 iftar takeaways and home delivers per day. Its online deliveries are mainly made through Uber Eats and partially by Pathao.
“The number of customers seems high, but it’s less than 20 per cent when compared with last year’s,” said Abdur Rab Selim, the manager of the outlet, which reopened on April 29.
Madchef’s Banani outlet has been preparing iftar item since the beginning of Ramadan, said an assistant manager.
Through Foodpanda, it makes deliveries of an iftar platter priced at Tk 399, which includes chicken slider, achari rice, chicken katsu, chocolate brownie and juice.
Among luxury hotel’s restaurants, Le Méridien Dhaka and InterContinental Dhaka are closed, while Amari Dhaka, Hotel Sarina and Westin Dhaka are open for iftar takeaway and home delivery.
Amari Dhaka has come up with takeaway or home delivery set for iftar followed by dinner.
It is selling three iftar set meals — Silver, Gold & Platinum — for Tk 2,300, Tk 3,300 and Tk 4,500 respectively.
The delicacies include chicken curry puff, chicken makhmali kebab, full egg chop, vegetable spring roll, chicken roast, chicken biryani, mutton or chicken halim, Amari Reshmi Jalebi, Arabic falafel, shami kebab, fish croquettes, coleslaw, mutton or chicken halim.
Apart from these, mutton kachchi biryani, grilled chicken with BBQ sauce, grilled fish or sweet and sour prawn will meet the cravings for dinner.
The platinum menu includes baba ganoush, chicken shawarma, breaded prawns with tartar sauce, eggplant tempura, fish croquettes and mutton.
Credit cardholders of Standard Chartered, Mutual Trust Bank, Midland Bank, Brac Bank and United Commercial bank can get the BOGO offer for Amari’s iftar takeaways or home deliveries.
“Although our business is not restaurant-centric, our restaurant is open for takeaways and home deliveries,” said Ashok Kejriwal, chairman of Amari Dhaka.
The hotel now makes about a dozen deliveries daily using its own transport.
The sales are picking up as the order is increasing, said an employee of the hotel’s restaurant section.
“I have been receiving many phone calls inquiring whether we are preparing jilapi and halim this year,” said Abdul Awal, director for sales and marketing of the Pan Pacific Sonargaon.
The hotel, which has been closed since April 25, is famous for offering different types of jilapis — orange and saffron, regular and sugar-free.
Iftar deliveries and takeaways at Six Seasons Hotel, which has 85 rooms, is somewhat better than others.
It makes about 12 to 15 orders per day since the beginning of Ramadan.
Despite the lockdown, the hotel has been open as it has 12 foreign guests staying put at the property for the suspension of flights and closed borders amid the global coronavirus outbreak.
“We have to develop seamless and prompt home delivery system ensuring all safety protocols for the sake of our existence,” said Md Al Amin, general manager of the hotel.
Four Points by Sheraton Dhaka is providing BOGO offers for credit cardholders of Standard Chartered, Brac Bank, UCB and MTB. It’s also providing free home delivery to Gulshan, Baridhara DOHS and Niketan.
In Chattogram, Radisson Blu Chattogram Bay View has been open for iftar takeaways since the beginning of the fasting month.
The crisis though elicited a rather inspired move from Rumman Ahmed, chairman of Hideout Lounge restaurant in Chattogram.
After a month of recess, on April 26, he reopened the restaurant with 11 employees and he assigned his two staff to make calls to some targeted customers requesting them to avail iftar takeaways and home delivery.
“The response has been tremendous. When they were ensured about safety, most of the customers agreed to take iftar from us,” he said.
Hideout Lounge now receives 25 to 30 orders per day and Ahmed hopes it will pick up soon as he is getting stronger response from the customers day by day.
In Chattogram, some restaurants such as Terracotta and Rodela Bikel have recently resumed operations.
Almost all restaurants in Sylhet are closed as the city has imposed strict restrictions to contain the virus.
In recent years, restaurants in Dhaka have witnessed a burgeoning market for sehri, the meal consumed early in the morning by Muslims before fasting, and received tremendous response, especially from the younger generation.
However, this year, no restaurant in Bangladesh is providing the service.
Regardless, the recent spate of restaurant reopening is good news for restaurant workers.
The number of food service establishment is estimated to be about 60,000, including hotel, restaurant and sweetmeat makers, where more than 15 lakh people are working, according to the association and the sector’s insiders.
In Dhaka alone, there are about 10,000 restaurants that employ about 3 lakh people.