“We decided to do this special campaign for people are getting the vaccine endorsing what is happening by the World Health Organization and globally for populations to get the jab,” Naim Maadad, CEO and founder of Gates Hospitality, told Al-Monitor.
As of Feb. 25, more than 5.8 million vaccine doses and over 30 million tests have been administered in the UAE. "Spread love, not Rona," read the social media advertisements for Maadad's restaurants.
Gates Hospitality, the group behind such Dubai hot spots as Reform Social & Grill, Bistro Des Arts and Publique, offers a 10% discount to residents who have had the first dose of a vaccine and 20% for those who have gotten both doses. Diners must show proof of vaccination to get the discount.
Maadad, an Australian native of Lebanese descent, told Al-Monitor, “There are two sides of this story. From a commercial position, this has not driven a lot of business as we really don’t rely on tourism, but from a branding perspective, this has really blown up for us. Locally we have had pushback from people saying we are discriminating against people who could not get the vaccine like pregnant women.”
He added, “Secondly, we were told we are taking advantage of a pandemic, which was not great. Our main goal was to stand with the UAE authorities and spread awareness of what is being endorsed globally: to vaccinate.”
Dubai’s restaurant sector has been hit hard, like most restaurants around the world. The majority of food and beverage establishments are in malls, as Dubai is host to more than 65 of them. According to the international accounting network KPMG, 90% of UAE’s F&B operators expect a 20% or higher decline in sales this year. A third of this group expects a 40% decline. Social distancing, which limits capacity, is at the top of the restaurants’ list of concerns. These rules significantly affect cashflow and staff costs.
Just when restauranteurs thought the situation was getting better, a new circular has been issued by the government news agency WAM. New preventive measures will be extended until the end of Ramadan around May 12th. Restaurants and cafes will be required to close by 1:00 a.m., bars will remain closed and intensified monitoring and inspection will continue to ensure strict compliance with measures, including social distancing and use of face masks.
For restaurants, this latest news is another blow to a hard-hit sector. Tables now have to be three meters apart instead of two. There is a limit of seven people per table, including outdoor dining. Cafes are limited to four people per table. Samantha Wood, founder of the well-known UAE-based restaurant reviewer FooDiva, told Al-Monitor, “These new rules now have restaurants reduced by 40%. This is a huge number, especially for small restaurants that already have limited seating.” She went on, “The restaurants that have terraces are benefiting a bit more, but it’s still a challenge.”
Maddad told Al-Monitor following the latest directive from the Dubai government, “We will certainly apply all the directives and support them to make sure we stand by the authorities and enforce such initiatives. However, I would like to see some support from various authority bodies and ministries to offset the commercial implications that come with such reduction of business and restrictions. For example, we are only allowed to use 50% of our space while still having to pay 100% of our rent, 100% of fees for our trade license, 100% for our liquor license, 100% for our team members' visa costs and so forth. Hopefully we will get some support and/or subsidies from the government to help us endure this aggressive approach.”