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Cool reception for Ramadan buffets this year

Many restaurants and hotels are reporting empty tables well into the second week of the fasting month.

Nur Hasliza Mohd Salleh
2 minute read
A woman chooses from an array of dishes at a Ramadan buffet at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur.
A woman chooses from an array of dishes at a Ramadan buffet at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur.

Ramadan buffets, long a feature of the fasting month, are receiving a cool reception this year with many restaurants and hotel operators reporting empty tables well into the second week.

Karim Shah, who owns a restaurant and catering business in Putrajaya, compared the situation to previous years when bookings were sold out a week before Ramadan began. 

But even with early bird offers and lower prices this year, his restaurant has been struggling. 

"Our restaurant can fit 120 people at one go, but some days only three tables are booked," he said. 

"Even then, each table has just two customers." 

Karim, who comes from Pakistan, has been making daily losses. But money matters aside, he cannot bear to see the food that his workers prepare every day going to waste at the end of the night. 

Normally, they serve Arab menus and food from his home country. 

For the Ramadan month, he brought in special cooks to prepare Malay and Western cuisine. 

"But not even 10 people come in a day," he said. 

"How can we continue our business? It's a waste and a loss." 

Christina Toh, president of the Malaysian Association of Hotels, said the same trend could be seen at Ramadan buffets at hotels throughout the country. 

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, she said the lacklustre response could be due to the recent school holidays, during which many families had spent on vacations.  

And with Aidilfitri celebrations around the corner, she said, would-be customers were likely saving up for Hari Raya instead of spending their money during the fasting month. 

"We thought that people might make bookings because of our early bird offers," she said. 

"But business at most hotels has been slower than it was last year." 
What business they do have is not expected to last, she added. 

"This year the cost of goods has also gone up, so the retail price is higher, too, from 10% to 25%," she said. 

Azmi Abdullah, who owns a wedding hall in Skudai, Johor, agreed that there had been an increase in buffet prices. 

For seven years, he and his wife had offered Ramadan buffets during the fasting month. They never raised their prices, which remained at RM58 for grownups and RM15 for children below 12 years old. 

This year, though, he had no choice. Grownups are now charged RM78 each and children, RM30. 

Azmi said the rising cost of goods and preparing the meals had forced his hand. 

"The worst affected are things like chicken, meat and vegetables, especially chillies, tomatoes and onions," he said. 

"If we reduce the number of dishes on our menu, the customers will be disappointed because they have fewer options. 

"If we maintain the crowd favourites, we have to raise our prices."

But Azmi appears to be in a catch-22 situation as raising his prices has also driven some customers away. 

"There's nothing we can do," he said. 

Even his loyal customers whom he used to see several times a week are nowhere to be found. 

"Some of them would come on Monday, and then on Friday I would see them again with their families. 

"But this year, I haven't seen them even once."