Managing Partner of Hodema Consulting Services
Managing Director of Hospitality Services
Powered by Hospitality News Middle East and funded by the USAID Lebanon Enterprise development (LED) project, Hospitality News Talks held its first virtual roundtable on February 4 — “How Covid-19 is changing the shape of the restaurant industry: challenges and opportunities in 2021”. The online session, one of 12 such talks, called upon the expertise of prominent restaurateurs and industry professionals in Lebanon to share their experiences and propose ways to move forward.
The panel included: Karim Chebaklo, CEO of Par Contre Holding; Henri Farah, cofounder and CEO of Kampcatering SAL and Kampcatering Offshore; Nael Halawani, cofounder and COO of Toters; Aline Kamakian, owner of Mayrig and Batchig; Kamal Mouzawak, founder of Tawlet Beirut; and Tony Ramy, president of the Syndicate of Owners of Restaurants, Cafes, Night-Clubs and Pastries in Lebanon. Nagi Morkos, managing partner of Hodema Consulting Services, moderated the session.
During the debate, Ramy said: “The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) reported that 2020 was the worst year in tourism history, with international arrivals dropping by 74 percent and 120 million tourism personnel losing their jobs.” The restaurateur expressed how difficult it has been to keep his own businesses afloat during the multiple lockdowns and spoke about the monumental struggles faced by syndicate members in the absence of financial aid or support from the government. “In Lebanon, things have been unbearable. We have experienced direct losses of 600 million USD per month in the tourism industry since 2018; and while we had 8,500 tourism-related entities, we now have only 5,000.”
Halawani stated that Covid-19 actually provided an opportunity for Toters, a food delivery service. “We saw a huge increase in demand because of the lockdowns. We included fine-dining restaurants and offered cross-zone delivery to support a greater number of businesses and provide our clients with more choice.”
Chebaklo pointed out that pre Covid-19, only 20 percent of sales were delivery orders — a figure that rose to 50 percent as a result of the lockdowns. “The main problem has been the fact that we have been unable to operate at night because of the curfews and lockdowns. When you consider that 70 percent of our sales take place at night, you can understand how catastrophic it has been.”
“We have been in survival mode,” said Kamakian. “Delivery was never our focus, but we had to embrace it. Our menu consists of sharing plates, and clients would come to our restaurants for the whole ambience. Adaptability is key.”
In terms of the post Covid-19 landscape, Mouzawak said that tourists — a lifeline for the hospitality industry — would return to Lebanon providing there is political stability. “Lebanon is an attractive destination for tourists. It has become more even more affordable now. We just have to wait until this pandemic is over.”
Farah also agreed that only time would tell what the post Covid-19 restaurant industry would look like, stating: “We just have to be patient. It’s hard to plan.”
The webinar can be viewed in full here.
“What 2021 Holds for Lebanon’s Hospitality Industry” will take place on February 18. Click here to register.
To access the full program of Hospitality News Talks webinars, click here.