Restaurants, bars idle as coronavirus keeps revellers at bay

By Minh Chau   February 11, 2020 | 07:00 pm PT
Restaurants, bars idle as coronavirus keeps revellers at bay
Shops are empty in Hanoi's famous Ta Hien beer street. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh.
With homebound customers opting to avoid contracting the new deadly coronavirus, many popular food streets across Hanoi are left empty.

Running a restaurant on Tong Duy Tan Street, Hanoi’s most famous culinary hotspot, Tuan described periods before and after the Lunar New Year holiday (Tet) as "bumper harvests".

Last year, he earned up to VND20 million ($861) on certain days, with customers local and foreign filling up seats from morning till night. On occasion, Tuan even had to supply extra tables to serve the vast number of patrons.

However, this year was different. Customer numbers fell by about 30 percent after a new regulation doubling fines for drink driving was rolled out before Tet, figures dropping even further after information related to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic began circulating around January 27, he said.

"Customer numbers this Tet equalled only 10-15 percent that of previous years. In the past few days, with the epidemic at its peak, only a handful of people came to eat," Tuan said.

"Those that do come just order a few simple dishes before quickly donning masks and leaving. Before sitting down, customers check to see how many patrons are already inside, because they want to avoid crowded places," he added.

With so few customers, Tuan’s restaurant currently makes only VND2-3 million ($86-129) a day, which is not enough to cover rent, not to mention ingredients and wages.

Along Tong Duy Tan, almost all other restaurants and bars are largely empty.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, sidewalk eateries were often fully packed up until 1-2 a.m. along touristic Ta Hien Street in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. But in the past few days, most customers leave before 11.30 p.m., with shops in the area closing earlier.

Many others complain the "double whammy" of Vietnam’s new drink driving law and new coronavirus outbreak has forced them to close restaurants after only starting the business. Binh, who invested over VND3 billion ($129,193) in a big restaurant on Hanoi's Minh Khai Street, said he rushed to have it completed before Tet to cash in on the occasion.

However, after only four months, he has decided to close up shop and liquidate all related assets after the drink driving regulation and COVID-19 outbreak resulted in poor business.

"I have lost confidence. If I continue, I could end up losing hundreds of millions of dong (VND100 million = $4,300) on rent, ingredients and operational costs each month without knowing when conditions would improve," he explained.

With customer numbers expected to remain low, some restaurants that closed for Lunar New Year have decided to extend their holidays. The manager at a beer bar on Hanoi's Phan Ke Binh Street said although his shop was originally scheduled to reopen on January 29, the end of Tet, he has extended the break to this Monday.

Karaoke businesses have also been seriously affected by the coronavirus scare as customers try to avoid crowded areas. The manager of a karaoke parlor on Le Duc Tho Street said daily turnover dropped by 60-70 percent.

"When the drink driving decree took effect, the number of visitors decreased sharply, but began to recover after a while. However, after Tet and until now, we only welcome 2-4 guests daily," he said.

The coronavirus scare has also hit shopping malls around Hanoi. On normal days, Aeon Mall in Long Bien District is packed with families and children from Hanoi and nearby provinces like Hung Yen, Hai Duong and Bac Ninh. But on Saturday, the mall was empty as the country confirmed 15 cases of COVID-19 infection.

Vietnam officially declared the coronavirus outbreak an epidemic on February 1. Six of 15 patients have recovered and been discharged.

As of Wednesday morning, the global COVID-19 death toll had climbed to 1,114 and confirmed infections topped 44,900, of whom over 4,500 have recovered.

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