Feb 6 — CHINESE restaurants have been robbed of the opportunity to earn more during Chinese New Year with the extension of the movement-control order (MCO) until February 18, said restaurateurs.
They told The Malaysian Insight they had hoped to score big on the first seven days of the festival, which falls on February 12 and 13, but hopes had been dashed with the extension to the MCO.
The new year celebrations are usually the busiest season for the industry with reunion dinners, annual Chinese company dinners and large family gatherings.
Restaurateurs are now predicting that another wave of restaurant closures will take place after Chinese New Year as the business continues to rely solely on takeaways.
“These new closures will come on top of the more than 100 large and small restaurants that have already closed down or suspended their business last year,” said Lum Tuck Loy, president of Malaysia Selangor and Federal Territory Ku Su Shin Choong Hung Restaurant Association.
“One year later, we are still trapped in the MCO. It is not known how many restaurants can survive in the end,” Lum said.
He added that MCO extension should be targeted at areas with high infection rates, not across the board to cover the entire nation.
“Otherwise, the industry does not know how long the restrictions will drag on and how to proceed with the business,” he said.
“The takeaway service that most restaurants are focusing on is not a sustainable solution because we offer luxurious dishes with a grand atmosphere and service.
“Takeaways are merely for simple food such as fried rice, fried noodles, and stir-fried vegetables.”
He said that the association will be submitting a proposal to the government to permit dine-ins.
“I hope the government allows dine-ins with four to five people per table to help the industry survive.”
Quickly losing hope
Meanwhile, Johor Kitchen Association president Ang Swee Kiong estimated that 10% to 20% of the 400 restaurants in Johor could enter liquidation and closure after the Chinese New Year.
“The restaurant industry saw the Lunar New Year as their last hope, but they may not be able to survive in the current situation,” Ang said.
He added that many restaurants have launched takeaway Chinese New Year set meals such as Poon Choi (treasure pot), a traditional meal composed of layers of different ingredients, designed for communal consumption.
“The pandemic has affected customers’ willingness to spend big on the new year. Therefore, the prices launched by restaurants must be affordable to attract customers.”
Ang hopes consumers will opt for the takeaway services.
Malaysia Koo Soo Restaurants and Chefs Association president Wong Teu Hoon said he was mentally prepared for the MCO extension after seeing the daily increase of Covid-19 confirmed cases.
“We have already seen cancellations of 30% to 40% of annual company gatherings and 20% of family reunion dinners since January.
“This is the first time in decades that I had encountered such a situation. Usually, the restaurants are swarmed with diners until the 15th day of the new year, but now it is zero.”
Wong said the next peak season was in May, which is a prosperous time for Chinese wedding banquets.
“However, if the pandemic continues and the government continues to ban dine-ins, all sectors will barely survive.”
Putrajaya has extended the MCO, scheduled to end on February 4, to February 18 nationwide except Sarawak.
Under the MCO, restaurants are not allowed to offer dine-in services but are able to provide takeaways and deliveries.
Malaysia continues to see daily Covid-19 cases in the thousands.