Beirut and its restaurants have weathered wars, bombing campaigns and assassinations, and pride themselves on always bouncing back.
But this time is different, say Beirut bar and restaurant owners, who fear that a devastating financial crisis, compounded by the global coronavirus pandemic, may finally be their undoing.
At Le Pecheur, a 20-year-old seafood restaurant, a veteran waiter stood at the entrance, armed with a faceshield and antiseptic spray, on the first weekend after the Lebanese government lifted restrictions on June 1. There were no customers.
“I have been through the civil war as a child…We saw dead people and shells exploding, but wherever you went, no one ever said they had no money or they can’t afford to eat,” Reuters quoted Ahmad Kassem, 49, Le Pecheur’s owner, as saying.
“Now, we have people around us with empty stomachs. No work, no money.”
Since late last year, Lebanon’s local currency has lost more than 60 percent of its value, as prices soar. The crisis has slashed jobs, fueled unrest and pushed the government to seek aid it badly needs from the IMF.
Hundreds of restaurants, cafes and bars have closed in a country where the service industry was long a pillar of the economy and employed a big chunk of the workforce.
Meanwhile waiters at Baron, a restaurant that can seat 200 people in a hip district of Beirut, served a lone table.
“We’re living day by day, we’re trying our best to plan ahead but every plan we have can change in a matter of seconds,” said Baron’s founder Etienne Sabbagh, 37.
He said industry leaders had only received empty promises of help from the government as banks cut access to cash and credit facilities.