A very holy month

Ramadan and the World Cup are affecting restaurants, bars and cafes in unique ways

|Greg Demarque|

As the World Cup’s 2014 ‘Round of 16’ drew to a close last week, Executive once again sat down with a few hospitality venue owners to see whether the recent suicide bombings and the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan had affected them.

Some restaurants airing the games had indeed noticed lesser volume of people since the start Ramadan, compared to the first week of the game, as people tend to eat more at home during the first week of the month. While admitting that their venues in Verdun and Hamra were less busy than the first week of the games, Rita Saati, marketing officer at Roadster Group, says their other locations compensated for this and they didn’t have a major cumulative decrease in sales or volume, making them satisfied with their venues’ performance during the World Cup thus far.

Most bars and clubs in Beirut are experiencing the annual slump that comes with the onset of the Ramadan when many practicing Muslims abstain from drinking alcohol. Yet the World Cup games, especially as the competition intensifies, are drawing out more crowds than usual for this period. Toni Rizk says his bars, Gatsby and Nu, were fully booked for the Germany–France game, but says that Uruguay Street as a whole had been less busy since the onset of Ramadan — which he says was expected, while the suicide bombings caused a decrease in customers on the nights they occurred.

While the semifinals and finals may bring crowds to Beirut’s bars despite Ramadan, it is to be noted, however, that the owners Executive spoke with say the increase in footfall that the World Cup brings to their venues has not translated into an increase in revenues, and that they usually just break even during the World Cup period, considering the investment they put into getting the broadcasting equipment and rights.

Shisha-serving cafes, which usually fill up during Ramadan — and even moreso now that people have football to watch as well — are examples of venues able to capitalize on the World Cup–Ramadan overlap.

Raouche’s Dardashat Café boasts a waiting list for the 11:00 pm games from now until final game, while for Beb El Az in Verdun, the World Cup period is the fullest they have been since opening three months ago. “We fully returned the investment we put into the World Cup during the first period and made a name for ourselves as the destination in Verdun thanks to the games,” says Bilal Daouk, Bab El Az’s manager on duty, explaining that people like to come after the evening iftar meal, have a shisha and watch the game on the giant screen on their wide terrace.

Ramadan or not, explosions or not, it seems that the Lebanese are determined to enjoy what is left of the 2014 World Cup — and hospitality venues are just as determined to make a profit during this holy season.

Nabila Rahhal

Nabila is Executive's hospitality, tourism and retail editor. She also covers other topics she's interested in such as education and mental health. Prior to joining Executive, she worked as a teacher for eight years in Beirut. Nabila holds a Masters in Educational Psychology from the American University of Beirut.

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