Tough business of staying afloat

Indrani washing a pile of dishes at her restaurant in Subang Jaya.

Indrani washing a pile of dishes at her restaurant in Subang Jaya.

OWNING a restaurant may seem like a dream come true for some but managing one is by no means a walk in the park.

There are many elements behind the scene that business owners must deal with, including finances, food and drinks supply, marketing, advertising and most importantly, the workers.

Staffing is perhaps one of the most daunting issues for Indian restaurant owners to deal with, especially with a shortage of workers and difficulty of finding reliable employees adding to the challenges of running the business.

As such, it is not unusual to see restaurant owners doubling up as wait staff or donning aprons to meet customers’ needs.

This is the reality as many owners find it difficult to secure staff and have resorted to taking on other menial roles while being the supervisor.

The dull jobs some owners shoulder include washing toilets and doing the dishes.

Baskaran preparing ‘mee goreng mamak’ while his daughter Roopa helps out at the restaurant in Jalan Rahang, Seremban. — Photos: YAP CHEE HONG/The Star 

Random checks in Subang Jaya, Kuala Lumpur and Seremban showed that restaurant owners are having a tough time multi-tasking to keep their business afloat.

A proprietor of a popular restaurant in Klang was seen washing the toilet because of staff shortage.

The situation is also taking a toll on their health.

Inability to cope with the demands has led to some proprie-tors downsizing or even ceasing operations.

Restaurant owners claim that the Government does not understand their predicament and need for foreign workers.

Besides not approving new applications for foreign workers, restaurateurs said the Human Resources Ministry was not allowing restaurants to rehire replacement workers for those have who left the country.

In June, minister M. Kulasegaran ordered all restaurants nationwide to recruit only locals as cooks from Jan 1 next year to reduce dependence on foreign labour.

Giresh holding one of the awards for his restaurant, says it is a struggle to run a business without enough workers.   

It was reported that restaurants were dominated by foreign workers from Indonesia, Bangladesh, Myanmar and India who were hired as cooks, waiters and cleaners.

Last month, the Government also announced that employers were required to pay a RM10,000 levy to renew permits of foreign workers who wished to continue working in the country after their 10th year here.

The decision received a lot of flak from employers and politicians.

R. Elangovan, the owner of Restoran Asoka in Bandar Bukit Tinggi, Klang, described the situation as critical.

Elangovan, who has been operating his restaurant for 15 years, closed his second eatery in Jalan Tengku Kelana, Klang, last year after failing to get replacement workers.

“I had two restaurants with 33 workers. Now, I have one restaurant and only six workers.

“I help out to clean the toilets because I cannot burden my workers with extra work,” he said, adding that his restaurant operated around the clock.

Elangovan said he was barely getting three to four hours of sleep a day and feared that he would be forced to close shop if the situation continues.

Poobalan is used to multi-tasking at his Sun Oli restaurant in Kelana Jaya.

Sun Oli Curry House owner V. Poobalan said he was doing everything, including taking orders and delivering food, at his Kelana Jaya restaurant.

Cleaning tables, he said, was also part of his daily chores as he only had two workers in the shop.

“I take orders, prepare drinks, deliver the food and clean the tables. This routine goes on and on for hours.

“I find it very hard to cope as my legs are hurting and it is painful to run around like this,” he said, adding that his wife also helped out at the restaurant.

Poobalan said there were only two workers left compared to eight previously.

“Locals are not willing to work in restaurants and they hardly stay for two weeks once we hire them,” he said

K. Mahalingam, who owns Lingam’s Curry House in Jalan Yam Tuan, Seremban, described himself as an all-rounder as he has even learned how to make roti canai.

“There are only four of us, including my wife, at the shop.

“We have cut our business hours by three hours.

Chat Masala in Klang has temporarily closed as its owner cannot find workers to help out at the restaurant.   

“We only operate from 7am to 7pm now. Before this, it was from 7am to 10pm,” he said of his 20-year-old restaurant.

V. Baskaran, who owns Bidara Curry House in Jalan Rahang, Seremban, said seven of his family members, including his elderly uncle, were helping out at his two shops due to lack of workers.

He said his daughter, Roopa, a law graduate, was also helping at his Senawang Jaya restaurant.

“We have to take on more tasks at our restaurants because we do not have enough workers,” he said, adding that the past two years have been the most challenging in his 20 years as a food operator.

Tg’s Nasi Kandar Restaurant owner Giresh Kumar said 30 workers were needed to operate his 24-hour business but there were only a handful now.

He said it was not easy to cope without workers and his customers were mainly from Europe.

Besides being the cashier, Giresh’s wife also doubles up as a cleaner.

He said applications to the ministry for new or replacement workers were not successful.

Muthusamy says many restaurant owners have incurred major losses over the past two years.  

“I really do not understand why it is difficult for us to get approval to hire foreign workers when locals are not keen to work at eateries.

“I hope the new Government will consider the restaurant operators’ plight and be rational in its policy,” he said.

INT Restaurant owner K. Indrani recently closed down one of her two restaurants in Subang Jaya because she could not get replacement workers.

Her business, she said, was badly affected because she could not get workers and service was poor.

Malaysian Indian Restaurant Owners Association (Primas) T. Muthusamy, who owns four eateries in Klang and Port Klang, said one of his restaurants, Chat Masala in Jalan Tengku Kelana, was temporarily closed.

His 24-hour restaurant in Taman Berkeley has shortened its operation hours to 12 hours.

Muthusamy said many restaurant owners were going through a lot of difficulty and have incurred major losses over the past two years.