I founded ‘Bo.lan’ This administration has failed restaurants like mine. (Opinion)

A file photo of Dylan Jones, co-founder of Bo.lan.
A file photo of Dylan Jones, co-founder of Bo.lan.

If the current Thai “government,” and I use the term government very lightly, was a restaurant, it would never have made it past the soft opening. 

Prayuth Chan-ocha and his comrades’ continual displays of nepotism and cronyism show how out of touch they are with the realities on the ground and how absurdly unprepared they were to handle this current COVID-19 wave. This administration continually tries to shift the blame back onto its own citizens.

It’s pathetic and weak.

If I ran my restaurants like them, I’d have had a revolt from the staff and most probably would have been sued several times for grossly endangering my patrons but “only accidentally killing” a few. 

You might say I’m just sour because my restaurants are closed. I’d say no; actually, I’m one of the lucky ones. I pulled the ripcord early and managed to somewhat compensate my staff. I don’t owe any money to my wonderful suppliers and was able to leave on my own terms with our reputation intact. 

To stop the ‘bleeding,’ Bangkok’s trailblazing ‘Bo.lan’ calls it quit

I can all too easily imagine what my friends in the industry are facing right now. A rock and hard place comes to mind. Let me break it down for you. 

Just recently restaurants have been told that restrictions are being eased and they will be allowed to seat and serve customers once again. Now, before you rejoice and say this is great, let’s look at what this “easing” of restrictions really means. 

A file photo of chefs Duanporn ‘Bo’ Songvisava and Dylan Jones of Bo.lan. Photo: Bo.lan / Courtesy
A file photo of chefs Duanporn ‘Bo’ Songvisava and Dylan Jones of Bo.lan. Photo: Bo.lan / Courtesy

In order to open, a restaurateur must ensure all staff have two doses of a vaccine and/or are tested regularly at the establishment’s expense. For a small restaurant with a few staff this might not seem like much, but if you are a larger establishment like Bo.lan that at its peak had around 50 staff members, you’re looking at an additional expense of, say, THB20,000-plus a week, minimum. That’s essentially THB100,000-plus a month extra just to keep the doors open. Do you think restaurants can raise menu prices 15-20% and pass this additional cost onto consumers?

If your dining room is air-conditioned, you are required to reduce the amount of people you sit by 50% (75% for non-air-conditioned venues). That’s 50% less revenue, straight off the bat, just to pay your overheads. If you factor in that you’re not allowed to serve any booze, then let’s conservatively say that would mean 20-30% of your revenue is lost, gone, kaput. 

Now here’s the kicker: You’ve got to shut shop and get everyone out by 8pm. Think about the average amount of time it would take you and a friend to eat an enjoyable meal. The reality is the restaurant’s last sitting is 7pm, and that’s pushing it. You can try to open earlier, but in general people eat when they are used to eating. At the end of the day, running your restaurant like this, you’re more likely to see 20% to 25% less revenue than you would ordinarily. 

Oh, wait, I forgot: You punters also have restrictions! As the owner of a restaurant, I’m responsible for making sure that you, the dining public, have a “little green passport” ensuring you’ve had two shots of a vaccine, or showing that you’ve recovered from infection within a certain number of days… and have antigen test results that are no older than a few days. 

I don’t know about you, but I’ve yet to see one of these wonderful, all-powerful, economy-saving green passports. I’m not surprised. If you go by the recent figures (depending on where they are published), in the whole of Thailand, only around 10% of the population is fully vaccinated. 

There is one idea being thrown around among hospitality venues: set up rapid antigen test stands in front of the shop and sell them at a slightly inflated price to diners before you partake in our hospitality. It won’t save the venue, but it might help lessen the financial blow of you not being allowed to imbibe.

The cold, hard reality of the situation is that hardly any restaurants can fully comply with the government’s criteria and a tiny percent of the population is eligible to dine in. How long can the industry really hold on? How much more pivoting and adapting should it be expected to endure?

In my humble opinion, the restaurant and hospitality industry is the heart and soul of the Thai tourism industry. I believe it will take years to recover from what I can only call systemic abuse and a complete lack of support that it has had to endure over the last 24 months with no end in sight. 

Business owners have been left to fend for themselves and navigate blindly through these troubled waters. As a business owner, as a taxpayer, I feel completely abandoned by this administration and would guess I am not alone.

As a human being, I’m disgusted.

Dylan Jones is cofounder of Bo.lan, Err, and most recently The Bolan Education Program, along with his wife and fellow chef Duangporn “Bo” Songvisava. Outside of their work in fine dining, the two champion the zero-waste movement in Thailand, advocating for industry-wide reforms to develop a more sustainable future.

This story originally appeared in BK.

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