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As alcohol sale ban lifted, fates of restaurants in Saigon remain unpredictable

As alcohol sale ban lifted, fates of restaurants in Saigon remain unpredictable

Sunday, November 21, 2021, 09:17 GMT+7
As alcohol sale ban lifted, fates of restaurants in Saigon remain unpredictable
A food joint on Le Van Duyet Street, Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City was allowed to sell alcoholic drinks on the evening of November 18, 2021, the first time in five months. Photo: Q.T. / Tuoi Tre

After five months of COVID-19 restriction, Ho Chi Minh City has allowed restaurants and eateries to serve alcohol once again, but could that be enough to pull these businesses out of their current frail state?

Dining venues in coronavirus-safe zones in Ho Chi Minh City are now allowed to sell alcoholic drinks during a pilot phase that lasts until the end of the month, according to a regulation issued on Tuesday. 

As of Wednesday morning, only outlying Can Gio District was classified as at low risk, while the remaining districts and Thu Duc City were considered relatively safe.

The pilot plan has met with high expectations from local restaurateurs, many of whom are attributing their low-performing sales to the liquor moratorium that stayed in place after their restaurants were allowed to reopen in early October. 

According to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper correspondents' observation on Thursday, many alcohol-serving food joints were once again bustling with diners, who sought to return to their pre-pandemic communal experience.

On Thursday evening, lines of beer joints along Go Vap District’s Pham Van Dong Boulevard, an emerging nightlife center of Ho Chi Minh City, seemingly gained back its liveliness as customers could order alcoholic drinks for the first time in five months. 

Many facilities even had to spread their seating to the sidewalk to meet the overwhelming demand of customers.

As Go Vap District is deemed relatively safe in Ho Chi Minh City’s scale of coronavirus risk, local restaurants can now serve a full house instead of limiting their capacity to 50 percent as they had to in October. 

According to an eatery owner on Pham Van Dong Boulevard, his business is welcoming 50 percent more customers compared to when the liquor ban was still in place. 

Businesses are thriving at nearby beer stalls too, he added.

Also on Thursday night, Ung Van Khiem Street in Binh Thanh District, a relatively safe zone of Ho Chi Minh City, witnessed a host of customers spilling to the street to enjoy food at roadside carts.

Phuc, a Binh Thanh District resident, said he decided to meet up with his friends at a beer stall in the area after hearing that the ban on alcohol sales had been lifted.

A food stall on Le Van Duyet Street, Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City is allowed to sell alcoholic drinks in the evening of November 18, 2021, the first time in five months. Photo: Q.T. / Tuoi Tre

Customers fill a food joint on Le Van Duyet Street, Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City, November 18, 2021. Photo: Q.T. / Tuoi Tre

Speaking with Tuoi Tre on Thursday, Tran Quoc Thinh, founder of a hotpot restaurant chain in Ho Chi Minh City, said nine of his locations in Phu Nhuan District have gone back to full capacity and resumed alcohol sales. 

The change had an instant impact, with customer footfall increasing across the chain, Thinh reported.

Nevertheless, a slew of stores has yet to see a triumphant revival following the rule easing. 

Representatives of Thien Hong Phat Restaurant in Tan Binh District said their sales have proceeded on a downward trend despite the return of alcoholic beverages on their menu.

Meanwhile, Hai Chau Restaurant in Go Vap District is also struggling, as one of its locations has been closed due to a suspected case of COVID-19 among the staff, while the others are running on reduced capacity as their revenue has only amounted to 20-30 percent of pre-pandemic figures.

“Insufficient manpower and a new rise in COVID-19 cases have discouraged customers from eating out,” said the restaurant operator.

“This situation may drag out till the end of the year.”

Having it even worse is the beef restaurant chain Nam Sanh Quyet Thang, which still faces the alcohol ban in six out of seven of its locations. 

A representative of the chain said they have been operating at a constant loss, as virtually no sales are made, while they still have to pay some VND700 million (US$30,000) in rent each month.

Certain COVID-19 restrictions that are still going on in several areas, coupled with the rise of COVID-19 cases and workforce shortage in Ho Chi Minh City, are rendering an abysmal future for local food and beverage businesses, a few other restaurateurs pointed out.

Discrepancies between the regulation and implementation of the new rule are also putting local business owners in limbo. 

“Restaurants on this side of the street are permitted to sell alcohol, but those on the other side can’t,” said a restaurant owner in Thu Duc City. 

“What is the basis of this decision?

"Is this even fair?”

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