Restaurant owners lament order to close by 9 pmThe directive is intended to prevent all non-essential gatherings amid fears of a second wave of Covid-19 infections.
Restaurant owners are worried by the government's recent order to close all eateries, bars, pubs and nightclubs by 9 pm just as they were beginning to bounce back from a disastrous lockdown.
The directive, intended to prevent all non-essential gatherings amid fears of a second Covid-19 outbreak, will stop the recovery in its tracks, they say.
Local diners helped to pull back restaurants from the brink, and restaurateurs are afraid the time limit will drive customers away.
According to the Restaurant and Bar Association of Nepal, 80 percent of the restaurants, bars and nightclubs—except for those located in tourist areas—have recovered from the virus catastrophe, and they risk relapsing into a second slump because of the latest directive.
Pointing to the swelling Covid-19 caseload and the spread of the United Kingdom variant of the coronavirus along with increased violation of safety protocols,
the Ministry of Health and Population on April 7 requested authorities to close down night businesses and restaurants after 9 pm.
“Closing down restaurants at peak dinner time will obviously have a painful impact on business when they are gradually moving on the path to recovery,” said Pramod Kumar Jaiswal, owner of Mela Restaurant.
Though there are no studies on the economic impact of nightlife, industry insiders say restaurants earn double the revenue they make during the daytime.
After the Nepal Electricity Authority declared the country load-shedding free in September 2017, nightlife started to make a comeback in many parts of the country.
Tourism entrepreneurs say cities outside the Kathmandu Valley have been seeing a new wave of millennials who prefer nightlife, and that’s an encouraging sign. They say that after the government lifted the lockdown in July last year, many new restaurants have appeared in Kathmandu.
“The government plans to slap restrictions on restaurants again. It can cause a serious blow to business,” said Araniko Rajbhandari, president of the Restaurant and Bar Association of Nepal.
Rajbhandari, owner of ND’s Restaurant, said that more than 60 percent of sales take place in the evening. “It’s the time after office hours when people rush to dine out.”
Former president of the association Jaiswal said, “In order to close the restaurant at 9 pm, we have to start preparing from 8 pm. When people know that restaurants close at 9 pm, they will stop coming after 7 pm or even 6 pm.”
Rajbhandari said, “I think closing down restaurants after 9 pm does not make sense because there are no crowds like in the daytime, even though the government doesn't think so.”
With tourist arrivals down to the minimum level, restaurants geared towards visitors in Thamel, Sauraha and Pokhara have not come into full operation. Restaurants in Kathmandu, Pokhara and Chitwan are gradually getting back on their feet because of domestic travellers.
According to the association, the closing time depends on the location of the restaurant as some operate till late at night.
"There was a rush of investments in the restaurant business before the pandemic, and the investors are returning in recent times. It costs around Rs20 million to open a good restaurant with an attractive concept," Rajbhandari said.
“We did not have access to compensation packages as per the announcement in monetary policy like other industries,” Rajbhandari said.
"During the pandemic last year, the government would issue a vague announcement every time it reached a decision. The same thing is happening again as restaurant owners don't know if in-person dining is prohibited and takeouts are permitted," he added.
Restaurant owners said that the government should implement strict safety standards instead of making decisions that hit business.
Instead of closing restaurants early, the government should have imposed strict inspection at all entry points into Kathmandu and at the border. Authorities should make people follow strict safety protocols like wearing masks, they said.
“We have been following social distancing by laying out fewer tables, conducting frequent sanitising and checking the temperature of customers,” Jaiswal said.
“The government is always rushing to take decisions while there are other businesses where people gather too, like public vehicles, supermarkets and shopping malls.”
According to the Restaurant and Bar Association of Nepal, there are 3,300 registered restaurants in the country. The industry provides 60,000 jobs, most of which disappeared during the lockdown.