‘This looks like a ghost town’: Brussels catering industry sees few customers

‘This looks like a ghost town’: Brussels catering industry sees few customers
Credit: Belga

While January and February tend to be quieter months for the hospitality sector, an increase in teleworking and a surge in Covid-19 cases have prompted some restaurateurs to dub Brussels “a ghost town.”

“Calm, empty, dead,” and “catastrophic,” are a few of the descriptors they used, reports Bruzz. Several businesses are even temporarily closing their doors.

“Brussels is a city of bureaucrats and they now work from home, that’s why there are only two or three customers a day – too few to be profitable,” said Bernard from À la Mort Subite, a café in the city centre.

“That is why we are closing for a week. I notice that there are no more people anywhere. This looks like a ghost town.”

A lack of foreign tourists

Empty establishments are especially visible in and around the Grote Markt, as these depend heavily on foreign tourists. “January and February are quiet months anyway,” Hamid Fheikh Rezaei of ‘t Kelderke, told Bruzz.

“Because of teleworking, customers are falling by the wayside. Since Sunday, very few people have come here, almost nobody.”

Kevin Vanlancker, who runs two restaurants in the neighbouring Ilot Sacré (Aux Armes de Bruxelles and Chez Léon), agreed. “It’s catastrophic,” he said. “There are only two people working in the kitchen now instead of eight, but we are still open.”

His restaurants, like Fheikh Rezaei’s, cater mainly to foreigners – both tourists and businessmen – and the newest wave of the pandemic is keeping them away.

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Staff off sick

Cédric Gérard, manager of the Greenwich and Sint-Gorikshallen (among other places), says 25 of his staff are currently in quarantine. For this reason, Bobbi Bao – a restaurant he runs on the Bourse – has been forced to close. “I think the city is empty because just about everyone is in quarantine.”

He sees differences between those who are sick in this wave of the virus compared to those who were sick in previous ones.

“The good news is that nobody has any serious symptoms. So the wave is high but not aggressive, so we will have group immunity soon. And maybe get rid of it after this.”

Losses in revenue lead to staff cuts

The Boulevard Anspach – the city’s central shopping boulevard – is also seeing a large reduction in footfall.

“Normally, there are so many people at the Christmas market that people flee the hustle and bustle and come to us,” said Sadek Al Omari of Maha restaurant. “This year that was not the case and in fact our customers were in the Christmas market.”

Al Omari had to cut the budget for employees – mainly students – by 50%. He described how November and December would usually boost revenue to make up for the more quiet months of January and February. “But this time they were not top months. After losing non-European tourists, we have now also lost European tourists, as well, resulting in a 50% drop in turnover.”

Al Omari intends to remain open as long as it is allowed and possible, “Although I really hope that this is now the last wave.”

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