Headwaiters turn to motorcycle couriers in COVID-19 era
Gizem Coşkunarda – ISTANBUL
The food and beverage sector, leading the service industry in Turkey with 2 million workers, has been knocked down as the restaurants and the cafes have been closed indefinitely due to the latest coronavirus measures.
Most restaurants have turned to takeouts, and loads of service workers have been dismissed, according to experts.
“This is a business with annual revenue of 135 billion Turkish Liras. In just two days, the sector has incurred a loss of 740 million liras,” said the Turkish Restaurant and Entertainment Association (TURYID) in a written statement.
“Two million laborers have been stripped off 74 million liras of tips,” according to the statement.
Underlining the way food businesses are changing amid the ongoing pandemic, Hakan Yenidoğan, who has been serving in this industry for 18 years, said: “We have never served as takeouts or carry-outs before. Now in this period, things have changed. I was a headwaiter in the restaurant, but now I am a motorcycle courier carrying out food to houses.”
“I cannot recall of times like these to have happened before. We used to work with 35 people in the restaurant. Now we try to carry on with four,” Fatih Özcan said, another headwaiter who has been in the business for 19 years.
On the side of the employers, things are the same, according to Bülent Şenel, owner of a fish tavern.
“We now sell fish sandwiches in front of the shop. Everyone in the shop, including me, clean the fish or service food to the houses,” said Şenel.
A business owner of the Sunset Bar and Grill restaurant in Istanbul, Barış Tansever, noted that they had fire most of their workers.
“Around 125 people used to work here. Now we have only five of them - two sushi chefs, a cashier and two waiters. All others are on unpaid leave,” Tansever said.
When asked, “Is there a solution?” Yenidoğan replied: “We are not against the closure of the restaurants due to the curbs. But it should not be from time to time. In Istanbul, all the places should be closed for a given period, or it would become painstakingly hard for the restaurants to reopen.”
Özcan also stressed that a solution should come out soon for the problems that businesses have been facing due to the ongoing pandemic.
“I have alimony to pay. But I have no income. How am I going to pay that?” he asked.
Stating that this is his 24th year in the sector, another worker, Mehmet Atalar, said, “Our elders used to say, ‘Everything may finish in this country, but food and beverage will go on. So, fill your pockets.’ But now things differ.”
Atalar is still hopeful for things to turn around and get better. “If I get my compensation, I will move to Datça [a tourism district in the southwestern province of Muğla]. It is hard, but I wish.”
Like Atalar, many try to stay optimistic as well for their bright future.
“Yes, we do not earn what we used to, but still, we are able to manage and carry on. We are thankful for the small blessings,” they said.