PETALING JAYA: As Malaysia moves towards Covid-19 endemicity with more relaxed rules, some restaurant operators who have given up in the past two years are looking to reopen their doors and even thinking of new partnerships.

However, industry leaders said only a fraction of them could do so as restaurant operators face new challenges.

Selangor and Federal Territory Ku Su Shin Choong Hung Chinese Restaurants Association vice-chairman Sia Boon Kong estimated that only “20% to 30% of those restaurants are reopening”.

“There have been over 3,000 Chinese restaurants of different scales that had closed down since June 2020 after the first movement control order in March that year.

“The number would have been higher following bouts of operation curbs in the past two years,” he said, adding that few were reopening due to a shortage of workers.

In a recent association committee meeting, Sia said many members had lamented the same problems in hiring enough workers.

“That’s why quite a number of our members, especially the old-timers, have opted to retire permanently,” he said.

Due to the labour crunch, many restaurants have not been operating at full capacity.

“Having insufficient workers and floor staff will hurt restaurants badly and lead to customer complaints. So we have been accepting fewer tables and patrons, resulting in up to 30% business losses compared with normal capacity,” he added.

Sia, who runs a chain of seafood restaurants in Johor Baru, Negri Sembilan and Kuala Lumpur, said the relaxed rules since April 1 are helping them to reinvigorate their business.

“Many restaurants in the southern part of the peninsula are seeing tremendous growth in sales, thanks to Singaporeans who have been coming over after the border reopened,” he said.

In fact, the business at his restaurants in Johor Baru has returned to pre-pandemic days.

“Some days, we recorded even higher revenue, which I believe is a result of pent-up demand.

“Our Kuala Lumpur outlet is also recovering with more visitors being allowed to dine in,” he added.

Calling on the government to quickly resolve issues surrounding the hiring of foreign workers, Sia said the levy and cost should be reasonable – for both new and long-time foreign workers.

“If we are not careful, we might send our well-trained workers to other countries offering better pay,” he added.

While the number of Chinese restaurants of different scales has shrunk, Pan Malaysia Koo Soo Restaurants and Chefs Association president Wong Teu Hoon said many operators are partnering with others to make a comeback.

“Many big restaurants that withstood the pandemic have mostly returned to business. It’s the smaller ones that were forced to close down.

“Now that we are almost back to pre-pandemic days, about 70% of small operators are partnering with others to reopen,” he added.

Wong also noted the same challenges pointed out by Sia, adding that the minimum wage is another bane to operators.