Restaurant owners have responded to a recent remark by Rafizi Ramli linking Malaysians' financial problems with an "addiction" to eating out, urging the economy minister to understand the issue from their perspective as well.
Mohd Johar M Jaffar, who operates two food businesses including a Western outlet in Sungai Buloh, said Rafizi's comments might compound the burdens already weighing them down.
"Business is already on the decline," he said. "Rafizi's statement could affect us as well."
Rafizi, the Pandan MP, had said that in other countries, eating out was considered "a leisure thing".
"You spend a lot more buying raw materials, cooking them, and eating them; every now and then, you go out (to eat)," he was reported as saying.
He also blamed "past policies" for shifting away from agriculture as well as poor public transportation, which he said had forced households to survive on buying meals.
"It is also about the time people spend travelling to and for work and how much time they have when they return from work to prepare food.
"So these are all the things that I think are the unintended consequences of many policies of the past," he was quoted as saying.
Johar said his business had already experienced a drop in sales of between 30% and 40% over the past few months.
Speaking to MalaysiaNow, he said he was currently in the process of closing down one of his outlets due to the high overhead costs which he could no longer cover.
A study by UCSI Poll Research Centre in February this year showed that nearly nine in 10 Malaysians were concerned about the cost of living.
The majority – some 60% – said they were the most concerned about groceries and food prices.
This was followed by utilities (45%) and fuel (43%). Healthcare costs came next (39%) followed by recreation and entertainment costs (39%), rental (34%) and public transport costs (33%).
More recently, reports on the cost of living said the price of consumer goods is expected to increase by up to 20% by this month, due to imported inflation and a rise in business operation costs.
Johar said the increase in price of raw goods meant that cooking at home had become nearly as expensive as eating out.
"If you want to eat in, you have to have vegetables, rice, chicken or fish, and something to drink," he said.
"You need cooking oil, gas, and other utilities. It's actually easier and cheaper to eat out than it is to cook at home."
Mohd Izham Fahmi Yaakob, who runs a restaurant in Puncak Alam, agreed.
He also noted the time constraints of office workers who must make their way home to cook in the evening.
"If you work office hours, you don't really go back home to cook," he said.
"The issue is not whether you eat out or cook at home. It's the fact that prices have gone up a lot, but salaries have remained stagnant."