How caterers struggle to survive...
Mangsir, Magh, Falgun, Baisakh, and Asadh mark the wedding season in Nepal. The party palaces around town are occupied by wedding ceremonies and marriage receptions during these months. But only setting the wedding dates is not enough for the venue, you ought to book the places few months prior to the actual ceremony.
The scenario is a bit different this year though — due to April earthquake there was no catering business in the month of Baisakh. Most of the booked receptions of Mangsir have been affected by the ongoing fuel crisis. And many party palaces and caterers around town are not entertaining new bookings for the months of Magh and Falgun.
They are struggling to serve the customers despite all odds.
The bride and groom were sitting on the stage, the guests had already arrived and everyone was having a good time eating, drinking and merrymaking at Thapa Gaun Banquet, New Baneshwor on December 8.
Though the scene was not-so different from usual wedding ceremonies, yet it was not the same once you observed the banquet’s kitchen. Instead of LPG, the cooks were using firewood to cook the delicacies. And the smoke of the firewood wafted in the dinner hall, the kitchen is situated below the dinner hall.
Thanks to the ongoing fuel crisis, the party palaces around town have begun to seek for alternatives — and firewood is what they are left with. Regardless the business must go on and creating a memorable dining experience for the bride-groom as well as the guest also falls under their responsibility, so, these caterers have modified their menus.
Deepak Thapa, Director of Thapa Gaun Banquet claims that they have not compromised the food items they promised the customers who booked the venue a few months earlier. And the understanding customers are ready to adjust to the slight modifications — especially in case of snacks. “The snack’s menu usually comprises of deep fried items. But as we have been cooking in firewood, it is difficult to get the right temperature while preparing such items. So, we are serving boiled or sauté items as snacks,” he adds.
Adapting to the new option
Anmol Catering Service (P) Ltd, New Baneshwor has also opted to firewood as alternative cooking fuel. But it has been a struggle to adapt to the new option.
Rabindra Humagain, Assistant Manager of Anmol Catering reveals, “We are not in a condition to be happy even if we get advanced bookings as we are struggling to complete our already booked wedding receptions.”
It is the peak business season for party palaces due to lots of weddings taking place. But what is the reason for being so pessimistic about the work that has knocked their doorsteps? “It is true that the income generated in the peak business months — Mangsir, Magh, Falgun, and Baisakh — helps sustain the party palaces and catering business during off season. But everyone including the chefs and cooks are accustomed to using LPG gas. And in such a period they are struggling to work with the firewood,” Humagain explains.
The case is identical in other party palaces too as Thapa adds, “Even the chef and cooks at Thapa Gaun Banquet have struggled to cook in the firewood as they are not familiar with the process.”
Arranging for alternatives to cater to the customers’ need, the banquets are attempting to survive in the crisis and their business has slowed. This Mangsir — one of the prominent wedding months for Hindus in Nepal — Thapa Gaun Banquet hosted only 14 weddings, it was 27 last year.
Interestingly, not a single client has cancelled the booking made for any wedding despite the crisis, informs Thapa. What has decreased is the number of guests and that has affected their business. Giving an instance, Thapa reveals, “A person originally from Banepa but living in Baneshwor had invited guests from Banepa for the wedding. But he has now cut the guests from Banepa as it will be difficult for them to manage to come here because of lack of transportation due to the ongoing fuel shortage”.
Thus, the catering business is not in the condition of becoming happy despite people holding wedding ceremonies. Bharat Karki, owner of Baneshwor Rental and Catering, New Baneshwor has been in this business for around 15 years. He doesn’t own a party palace, his job is to provide utensils and tents on rent for weddings and other ceremonies and avail cooking service at the customers’ venue. But Karki claims to have gone almost out of business as a result of ongoing blockade. In this peak business season, he managed to hold just two wedding receptions. In the previous year he had organised around a dozen of marriage receptions during this time.
The reason being, “It’s a daunting task to buy required ingredients for the party amidst the shortage of fuel and other items. To get the required amount of cooking oil, spices and other ingredients I struggled so much this year — I had to run from one store to another to collect the things as a single store was unable to provide all the necessary items, which was not the case before the blockade. Earthquake had already caused a toll on my business and now this has added to the woe.”
As a result Karki has stopped providing cooking service, he just provides his utensils and tents on rent and sends employees to work at customers’ venue — the customers have to arrange all the ingredients required for cooking and fuel on their own.
The cost of firewood is another problem. To make cooking easy for his staff, Thapa recently invested Rs 27,000 in six stoves with huge fans — so that it is easy to light the firewood. Even then it is still not easy to use it compared to LPG, leave aside the problem of smoke.
And Humagain, Thapa, and Karki say in unison that firewood cost them more than what they invest in LPG. Explaining the reason Huamagain shares, “It takes time to light the firewood. Once it is lit, you can’t put off the fire when unnecessary as it consumes a lot of time and energy to light it again. So, whether you need it or not, you have to
keep the fire burning until everything is cooked and it makes firewood expensive than LPG as there is controlled used of LPG while cooking.”
So, how much does the expense amount to? Karki calculates, “Cooking for 200 people needs three LPG cylinders or 300 kg firewood. Three LPG cylinders cost Rs 4,275 (Rs 1,425 per cylinder) while 300 kg of firewood cost Rs 10,500 (one kg of firewood costs Rs 35).”
Even the transportation charge has doubled as per Thapa. “Before the fuel crisis and blockade I used to pay around Rs 600 for the transportation for certain distance, now it costs around Rs 1,200 to Rs 1,500 for the same distance.”
No matter what the situation, most of the party palaces and caterers are still doing their job but if the situation extends there are chances that most of the small rental and catering businesses like Karki’s will come to a halt.
Thapa nonetheless points towards a hopeful picture reminding the glass is half full, “This is all happening as a result of not having experts in the respective field in the government sector. I see Nepal’s future bright as we are gifted with natural resources and today’s youth are aware of the country’s situation and they one day will be in the governing body, thus contributing to the betterment of every sector. Looking at the changes every developed nation has gone through, it seems that they had faced similar kind of turmoil before being a developed nation. I hope Nepal too will follow that path.”