HCMC restaurants suffer anti-drunk driving campaign

By Xanh Le   December 5, 2023 | 03:07 pm PT
HCMC restaurants suffer anti-drunk driving campaign
Traffic police officers check alcohol level of a driver in Thu Duc City, HCMC, Nov. 14, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Dinh Van
Some restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City have seen customers numbers plummet by up to 80% as the city strengthens its anti-drunk driving campaign.

Over the past few years, one famous food and beer establishment on HCMC’s Hoang Sa road usually has on average served up to 800 customers a day, but now they welcome only around 100-200.

"I rarely see my restaurant fully occupied these days," said Duong Binh, the 40-year-old owner of the restaurant. "My revenue has plunged by half from before."

Ever since Vietnam tightened its laws on driving under influence, Binh has seen his customers numbers dropping gradually. Most recently, the increase in number of police patrols out to bust drunk drivers has caused even more hardship for his business.

"I called some customers and they said that stricter implementation of driving under the influence (DUI) laws has discouraged them from coming."

In District 4, 30-year-old Quoc Anh has seen the number of customers plunging by half at his restaurants that used to serve all night.

"Customers say there are many police on the streets now so they are afraid of being caught."

HCMC last month launched Vietnam’s largest anti-drunk campaign ever by dispatching new DUI teams with significantly more officers than normal to streets known for high concentrations of bars, clubs and restaurants.

Over the first nine months of 2023, HCMC police recorded 93,507 cases of alcohol level violations while driving. This included 421 cars and 93,086 motorbikes. A total of 93,500 people had their licenses revoked for such incidents.

Vietnam has been tightening its DUI laws over the years. Starting from 2020, the country imposed new regulations on drunk driving which fine any driver with any amount of alcohol found in his or her system. Previously drivers were only fined if the alcohol amount exceeded a certain level.

The highest penalties are a VND40 million (US$1,640) fine and 24-month license suspensions. One can face criminal charges if the violation results in accidents.

HCMC police’s data shows that the number of traffic accidents this year dropped 26% from last year, while the number of deaths declined by 50%.

Colonel Nguyen Quang Nhat of Vietnam’s Traffic Police Department said that the stringent DUI laws have started to change the habits of drivers: they now have to find new ways to travel instead of driving themselves to avoid fines.

But restaurant owners have learned that many customers have begun not drinking at their establishments altogether, and this threatens the sustainability of their businesses.

Cong Vinh, who operates four food and beer restaurants in HCMC, said that many competitors have shut down even though they have been in the business for 10 years.

Vinh himself is considering closing down some establishments to reduce losses.

"My revenues have plunged from VND700 million to VND300 million a month. At some restaurants I am losing VND70 million a month."

Binh has laid off half of his staff due to financial difficulties to keep his restaurant in the business, but he is still recording losses every month.

He is trying some new promotion strategies to persuade customers to return.

"I now allow customers to park their vehicles at the restaurant overnight. I even pay ride-hailing fares for some customers so they would not drive home."

Vinh, however, is considering making beer a less important part of his restaurants services and instead plans to focus on a variety of high-quality food to attract new groups of customers.

"I hope that the situation will get better by year-end," he said.

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