Prepared in Jan 2021 by Rexhina Tare, a student of Epoka University
The Lockdown Economy is the United Nations registered initiative by the Think Tank AlterContacts to help small businesses overcome the challenges of the pandemic. This interview and its analysis were done in collaboration with Epoka University.
Lockdown period was one of the most difficult times for small businesses, especially in small countries such as Albania. Due to the situation, the operational challenges increased.
The chosen business is ‘Golden Taste’, a small restaurant in the middle of Tirana, Albania. It is one of the few restaurants in town that serve Halal meat and that do not serve alcohol. The environment is cosy and is suitable for both business and family dinners. The restaurant has been operating for 2 years and has an area of around 500m2 and employs 6 full-time workers. The restaurant serves a wide variety of dishes including Albanian traditional cuisine, Italian, and even Middle Eastern. The business has changed its marketing aim from the customers demanding only halal meat to a business-lunch restaurant adopting thereby the needs of the businesses nearby.
Beside normal challenges a business may face from day-to-day operations, the main lockdown challenges were as the following:
- For a 3–4 months period, there were no customers coming due to restrictions.
- Since the restaurant is placed in the middle of Tirana, the rent went extremely high and they also had to pay a full salary to the employees, regardless of the situation that clients weren’t coming.
- They couldn’t have delivery service during lockdown for 2 main reasons:
- It was expensive.
- People weren’t comfortable with the ordering from outside, since all became cautious with the foods they were consuming.
- Many people stayed out of jobs, everyone was toward affordable choices.
- They had to cut off some of their staff members.
Then we have the post-lockdown period:
- Restrictions were relieved, but people were still careful and avoiding crowded and closed areas.
- The capacity of tables was almost halved
- Events couldn’t have more than 10 people, which was devastating for this kind of restaurant. They couldn’t have customers for the Ramadan month since gathering weren’t allowed and there was also a time restriction.
- The usual costumers weren’t coming as usual as before, they were ordering cheaper menus or just stopping by for a cup of tea/coffee.
- They still have to pay full taxes and other insurances, which makes it quite difficult to handle.
These insights helped them analyze the situation and come up with a new strategy:
- They changed their menu from traditional ones to business meals
- They implemented the bain-marie cuisine, so people can come and choose the warm food from directly from the stand.
- This was quite successful since new clients were coming. Students nearby found this kind of food delicious, healthy and most importantly affordable.
As mentioned from the manager of the business, there was a change in the clients’ attitude towards the health situation, after having heard the implementation of vaccines. They started coming more often at the restaurants and they seem positive.
But still, the situation is unclear. It is very difficult to predict what is coming up next and how are they going to deal with it.
There were three things that Besa needed help at her business:
- A raise to war wages for their employees.
- Some of the employee insurances to be covered by the government.
- To leave the small businesses to recover for a one to two year period, by lowering some taxes.
Small businesses need some time to recover, but this cannot happen without the helping of responsible organizations.