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Fear, fasting a tough combo for Beirut bars

Business has dropped markedly since a suicide bomb hit a hotel in Beirut’s Raouche neighborhood last week.

BEIRUT: Unlike the weather at this time of year, Lebanon’s nightlife is cooling down this July when Muslims observe Ramadan.

Traditionally, the holy month sees an average decline in sales at pubs and bar-restaurants across the capital Beirut by 20 to 30 percent but this year the drop is forecast at double that number after a series of suicide bombings hit the country over the past few weeks.

“Last Saturday, I didn’t receive any phone calls after 8:30 p.m. asking for reservations,” said the manager of one of the bar-restaurants on Uruguay Street in Downtown Beirut.

The manager, who spoke to The Daily Star on condition of anonymity as he wasn’t authorized by the management to disclose sales figures, said business activity has dropped by more than 50 percent since a suicide bombing attack last week hit a hotel in Beirut’s Raouche neighborhood.

“Sales usually drop by 20 to 30 percent during the month of Ramadan compared to the previous month, but given the ongoing security incidents, I expect the figure to reach 50 to 60 percent based on what I have seen this past weekend,” he said.

While the consumption of alcohol decreases significantly during the month of Ramadan when many regulars fast, even those who don’t abstain from alcohol rarely show up at their favorite pub during the first week of the holy month, which kicked off Sunday.

“Sales decline most during the first week because even customers who don’t fast tend to spend more time with their families, especially during iftar time after 8 p.m.,” the manager said.

According to the manager, July is one of the most profitable months of the year for the nightlife industry.

“The month of December and the three-month summer season account for 40 to 50 percent of our annual sales,” the manager explained.

Michel Abu Merhy, the owner of a number of pubs and restaurants scattered across the capital, explained that the decline in sales varies between one neighborhood and another.

At Oscar Wilde, a pub that Abu Merhy owns in Hamra, sales usually decline by 50 percent during the month of Ramadan compared to the month before.

However, in the Ashrafieh neighborhood of Mar Mikhael, which boomed as a nightlife hub over the past three years, sales decline by much less. Abu Merhy says Vyvyan’s, a pub he owns in Mar Mikhael, sees a drop in sales between 10 to 20 percent.

While broadcasting the 2014 World Cup matches helped shore up sales at Oscar Wilde earlier this month, the suicide bombings that rocked Lebanon have lowered expectations that the globe’s most-watched tournament could attract new customers to offset the decline in the business activity during Ramadan.

“Few customers have walked into Oscar Wilde for almost a week following the latest bombing at the Duroy Hotel in Hamra. All neighboring pubs on Makdessi Street are going through a hard time,” Abu Merhy said.

If the security situation doesn’t improve over the coming weeks, Abu Merhy said he would be forced to consider laying off some employees to cut the expenditures. “I might even consider shutting down the pub.” Abu Merhy added that the decline in tourism has added to the woes of the hospitality industry.

Tourism in Lebanon used to represent 18 percent of the country’s GDP but the spate of security incidents and the spillover of the Syrian crisis have drastically reined in this percentage.

While the occupancy rates and bookings for the summer season had increased by 15 percent compared to last year, the rates fell down again after the series of suicide bombing attacks that started in Dahr al-Baidar on June 20.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 02, 2014, on page 5.

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Summary

Unlike the weather at this time of year, Lebanon's nightlife is cooling down this July when Muslims observe Ramadan.

Traditionally, the holy month sees an average decline in sales at pubs and bar-restaurants across the capital Beirut by 20 to 30 percent but this year the drop is forecast at double that number after a series of suicide bombings hit the country over the past few weeks.

While the consumption of alcohol decreases significantly during the month of Ramadan when many regulars fast, even those who don't abstain from alcohol rarely show up at their favorite pub during the first week of the holy month, which kicked off Sunday.

At Oscar Wilde, a pub that Abu Merhy owns in Hamra, sales usually decline by 50 percent during the month of Ramadan compared to the month before.


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