It’s been three straight months since all bars, cafes and restaurants have been “partially” shut down in Turkey. The gradual normalization will start in March, but how and when cafes and restaurants will reopen remains unclear, especially for those who work at restaurants that serve alcohol and bars, as they hit the hardest.
In 2019, the gastronomy and refreshments sector was worth 110 billion TL, losses in the past year due to COVID-19 were estimated at a whopping 70%. Around 2 million people work in this sector, which accounts for 10% of employment in Turkey.
The lockdown restrictions announced in November were said to be “partial”, cafés and restaurants would be allowed to stay open between 10am and 8pm, the authorities said.
Yet no one is allowed to sit inside or outside, which has dramatically impacted shop-owners. Some shops introduced takeaway and delivery services. Fast food and café chains did manage, while local shops and alcohol-serving restaurants are going out of business.
All bars and restaurants, especially “meyhanes”, which mainly serve customers in the evening and weekends had to close their doors indefinitely.
“What I have achieved in the past 4 years, I have lost in a one year. I’m back at point zero” said one restaurant owner in Kadıköy. Journalist Faruk Eren talked to shopkeepers in Beyoğlu, who told him they had to be taxi drivers or deliverymen, many had gone back to their hometowns.
With insufficient governmental support, some restaurants are already bankrupt. Most of them have enormous debts.
During the lockdown, the government gave 1.750 TL (250 dollars) per month to shopkeepers. But they had to pay all taxes, while waiters, musicians who went jobless got support at all. Shopkeepers and workers protested twice in Kadıköy, asking for reasonable support and tax cut.
Recently, the government announced an extra payment for those restaurants and cafes that have a turnover under 3 million TL and that suffered more than a 50% loss within the past year, that is, 3% of their turnover losses, which again, is not sufficient for shopkeepers to stay open.
Tourism, Restaurant Investors and Gastronomic Business Association (TURYID) Director Kaya Demirer told the daily newspaper Karar that small shop owners will benefit from it but that middle-sized would still have a troubled time.
Even if the reopening will be carried out with HES codes (which is the case for shopping malls) and stricter measures, the picture looks grim for restaurants serving alcohol and bars. If the support provided by the government remains low, with no tax brakes, many more will not be able to cope with a 3rd wave.
While factories, hotels, shopping malls are open, airlines operate without seat restrictions, and President Erdoğan happily salutes the crowds at AKP congress meetings, why are restaurants and bars suffering? Is it because Erdoğan dislikes alcohol consumption and the entertainment sector?
It is no secret that the regime has been using COVID-19 measures to impose their rule.
While the police raids Boğaziçi protesters in outdoor spaces and students are charged with “not complying with social distancing rules”, the President hails crowds in closed events.
While construction companies close to the regime (the big 5) have enjoyed tax brakes 128 times in the past 10 years, the worst afflicted by the pandemic got even more indebted.