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Enduring Struggles of Women Restaurant Owners During Covid-19

By Ousainou J. Sawaneh
The global pandemic of covid-19 has devastated the world and the restaurant sector is no exception. To this effect governments all over the world close down restaurants and bars to slow the spread of the virus.
Across the Gambia, restaurants’ daily traffic dropped swiftly compared to the same period in 2019. Closures of restaurants caused a ripple effect on peoples businesses. The Gambia government’s measures to contain the pandemic includes, banning of public gatherings and close of restaurants and bars and others.
Government’s measures to contain the pandemic was seen as a right violation to other restaurant owners as their businesses has been seriously affected and some restaurants owners feel not happy about their future. The biggest challenges of these owners have been how their businesses will survive, as the government has not given them any support.
COVID-19 has forced many restaurant businesses large and small to make changes to the way they operate. Small businesses suffered more negatively than the bigger ones, mainly due to their turnovers. They usually don’t have dedicated safety professionals. Without one, the responsibility for workplace safety falls to the owner or manager. The coronavirus pandemic has been a real struggle for most restaurant owners.
Survey results confirm dramatic impact of COVID-19 on Restaurant Industry.
According to survey, extracted from restaurant Informer, published on September 25, 2020, stated that six months following the first shutdown of restaurants for the coronavirus pandemic, the restaurant industry was in limbo.
However recent survey released by the National Restaurant Association (NRA), nearly 1 in 6 restaurants (representing nearly 100,000 restaurants) is closed either permanently or a short term; and nearly 3 million employees are still out of work, world wide; and the industry is on track to lose $240 billion in sales by the end of the year.
The survey, which asked restaurant operators about the six-month impact of the pandemic on their businesses, found that overwhelmingly, most restaurants are still struggling to survive and don’t expect their position to improve over the next six months. The findings include:
Jainaba Bojang, Manager Jay’s Bar and Restaurant at Kotu, who said that covid-19 has seriously affected her business and has impacted hugely on their income earnings adding that their earnings drops from 100% to 20% which she said is a big lost on the Business.
‘‘I have 6 staff all of who the business cannot pay; and I was left with no option but to lay them all off . I did not receive any support from the government’’.
Bojang said covid-19 has really make their business difficult for them adding that the government also violated their rights by closing restaurants and bars without giving them any support ‘‘Really this is unacceptable because we have families to feed and our staff’’ she said.
‘‘I have been to Gambia Tourism Board several times for the relief package for my restaurants and bar but I was told that I am not part of the package. It was not fair and was not right to be denied by GTB from getting the package. I have been paying tax to Gambia Revenue Authority and Kanifing Municipal Council, and I was also continuously paying rent because I was afraid of losing the restaurant’’ she said.
A lady in her nineteen who was a restaurant worker , who once worked at one of the restaurant in Senegambia but now working at Duwo’s Takeaway at Manjai stressed that covid-19 had affected everyone but on her side it was really different and bad.
‘‘The time I was working at the restaurant I use to earn D3000 per month but during the covid-19 my earning drops down to D1500 which was not good for me. The worst came when the manger asked us to sit at home and that’s how I stop work to join Duwo’s Takeaway’’ she said.
My situation came to a point where I was turned to beggar, as I have no work and have a family to feed. She said that she was begging people she know so that they can help her with money, this was bad for me as a young lady’’ she said
On her part Fatoumatta A. K. Faye, owner of Matta’s Restaurant at Barra reiterated that ‘‘ covid has affected me seriously considering the fact that I am use to working , and take care of myself. I use to earn for myself but it was really difficult for me and cannot be depending on people. I was managing from what I saved before covid-19 and that’s what I was using to help myself and family’’ she said
‘‘I have asked all my staff to stay home because I will not be able to pay them and then we were not earning anything. The best for me was to ask them to stay home and this was not my intention but again I cannot be using them without paying them’’ she explained.
“People are not buying our foods and some are also avoiding eating outside. This has brought a lot of challenge”.
She stated that she has not received any support from the government, ‘‘I don’t know anything about the Covid-19 grant package that the government gives the bars and restaurants owners. I was not aware of it and I never received any form of support from the Government or Gambia Tourism Board’’
She describes the act as not fair ‘‘really it was not fair for our restaurants and bars to be closed without the government giving us support. I have been paying tax to the Area Council and the Gambia Revenue Authority so they should not sightline us’’.
AK Faye stated that before covid-19 she use to earn 100% profit but during the covid-19 she use to earn only 25% profit adding that means the business has drops from 100% to 25% and described it as a great lost on their side.
‘‘I want the government to consider us always in whatever they are doing because they always sideline us and they should realize that we are also Gambians and they should at least help us , we the women restaurant owners because we deserve to be helped’’ she stated.
Fatou Drammeh, owner of Kinz Restaurant at Essau also discloses the challenges and constraints she face during covid-19, “It was really hard on us because since the closure of restaurants, I have been struggling and paying rent and the landlord was not considering that people are in covid-19. We were not earning anything and the business was not going as expected ” she said
She mentioned that the social distancing measures has also contributed a lot to the drop in the business, and drops the number of customers in her restaurant “we were not having lot of customers as it used to be before covid-19, all because of the social distancing measures” she said.
“Everyone was afraid because people have the belief that if you have covid you will die and people were not buying our food, the price of the commodities were skyrocketing, everything was just expensive in the market and no one was considering the poor people” she explained
She added that she has not received any any sanitary material from the government. Drammeh added that their business is still struggling despite the government has relax the restrictions.
“I have been hearing about government relief package for the restaurants but I have not received and I have not benefited anything from government” , she called government considerations.
National Assembly for Serekunda West, Honorable Madi MK Ceesay said that when the COVID-19 lockdowns began in mid-March, and social distancing orders catapulted the restaurant sector into an unprecedented crisis, considering the fact that lot of the youth lost their jobs.
The Lawmaker said, ‘ restaurants contributions immensely to both the local government and the GRA coffers, and helps in the creation of jobs for the youth, and the vibrancy of local communities’’ he said
He added the virus has every institution in the Gambia

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