In these changing times : Doner & Durum’s Seyed Waqar Moulana on how they adapted to new normal

By Dimithri Wijesinghe 

Doner & Durum (D&D) is a popular shawarma restaurant located in Thimbirigasyaya, famous for their variety in Turkish Mediterranean cuisine, reasonable pricing, and to-go menu items that are extremely delivery compatible.

Speaking to D&D Managing Director Seyed Waqar Moulana, a part of a five-person team also consisting of Nikira Senanayake, Abdul Ghouse, Atif Haariz, and Sharanga Hettiarachchi, shared that while their original business model alone was at least 50% reliant on delivery, they too have certainly had to make many adjustments to keep afloat during these uncertain times. He said that while right now they are open for delivery, before the pandemic, they were primarily a dinner spot where a very varied clientele would frequent the outlet.

He said that during the first lockdown, with their limited staff at the time, they made some decisions to streamline their production by limiting their menu items; as delivery services were not readily available at the time, they made arrangements to make deliveries in house within a 4 km radius.

Speaking about some of the challenges they had to face, he said the biggest issue was getting their hands on supplies, as many of their critical ingredients were import items and this in turn led to one of the primary adjustments they had to make – rely more on locally sourced ingredients.

“With any restaurant, the preference is to have all customers dine in and truly enjoy their food, which is unfortunately still some time away. Thus, it’s very important to drive other direct business” D&D Managing Director Seyed Waqar Moulana

He also added that they had to regroup and reconsider their pricing strategy as it was a necessity to include more budget items on the menu. Taking into consideration the economic status that everyone is in, he said that they had to make sure it was affordable.

“Yes, people were cooking at home and they wished to be more economical, but you also need a change of scenery,” he said, adding that they were prepared to provide that challenge for the customers at a reasonable price.

“Considering the severe impact on the economy with the pandemic, we had to ensure our products were more affordable to our customers, so we worked on coming up with several additions to the menu at different price points to cater to different customer segments,” he added.

Moulana also referred to the increase in industry competition following the first lockdown. “There were many at-home food businesses that came up after the lockdown; with many people losing their regular income, they had to turn to these other revenue streams,” he said.

He added that with these new competitors who had sprung up during the lockdown, there was an even greater challenge in sourcing supplies.

We asked Moulana about the adjustments they’ve had to make as a business in order to better adapt to the current situation. He said that the first change that had to be adopted was ensuring they adhered to all Covid-19 health and safety protocols issued by the Ministry of Health. Even during the first lockdown and when reopening food establishments post lockdown, they had decided to go an extra step and still remain closed for dining in for a considerable period of time in order to ensure the safety of their staff and customers alike.

This meant continuous monitoring of safety processes at all touch points – staff entry, supplies, delivery partners, etc., and also for customers when they reopened for dine in and takeaway. He added that they signed up with online payment service provider DirectPay to enable contactless delivery for all our customers.

Moulana said they made every possible adjustment; to drive the top-line of a business at times like this, it is very important to ensure all costs are monitored. He also shared that they brought in very stringent processes to ensure the cash flow was managed optimally and existing suppliers were renegotiated in terms of pricing and payment terms, and that all overheads were tried and moved towards a variable model so that they were linked towards sales, and low sales would then mean low costs.

However, he stated that with the consumer shift towards delivery through third-party providers, the impact of high commissions was greatly felt and so they also had to embark on direct delivery campaigns through their hotline and website.

“With any restaurant, the preference is to have all customers dine in and truly enjoy their food, which is unfortunately still some time away. Thus, it’s very important to drive other direct business,” he said, adding that every time the country goes into a lockdown, the effects are felt. However, what they are able to do is simply make efforts to adapt effectively and accordingly.

We also asked him about the assistance they received on the part of the Government and whether there was much to be desired in that department. He said that for the most part, the Government has been helpful, especially in providing curfew passes in order to make their deliveries, as that has been the reliable source of their business at present.

If there was anything they hope the Government could facilitate, it is to make supplies more readily available, which could be done if supply chains were not interrupted due to import restrictions. However, they are aware of the importance of safety until things are safer and more settled down.