Prague restaurants fight to stay afloat during the second wave of closures

We talked to local restaurants about the hidden costs of delivery, struggling to pay rent, and, amid closures, discover a bright-spot opening

Samantha Tatro

Written by Samantha Tatro
Published on 16.10.2020 13:36 (updated on 16.10.2020)

Restaurants across Prague were first forced to shut their doors for weeks in March with hours notice; in October, officials gave restaurants just a few days notice to close their doors after a nationwide State of Emergency went into effect.

While many restaurants were more prepared in the face of the second wave of closures, delivery still comes at a cost, and many restaurants, gastropubs, and bars across Prague and the Czech Republic continue to struggle to make a profit -- while others may close entirely.

Expats.cz spoke with restaurant owners across Prague on being forced to shut their doors a second time, the financial burden of the pandemic, and their plan going forward.

QQ Asian Kitchen: "I Don't See Closing as an Option."

At the start of the year, QQ Asian Kitchen had just rebuilt their restaurant and expected to have their grand opening in March at Mosaic House Design Hotel, the restaurant's owner and chef Lee Chang told Expats.cz via email. But their plans were quickly put on hold in the spring when the country went into lockdown.

"At least this time around the blow was a little softer because we had predicted this might happen again," Chang said. "We’re still feeling totally deflated because we had plans for some special events."

Photo courtesy of QQ Asian Kitchen/Facebook.
Photo courtesy of QQ Asian Kitchen/Facebook.

The restaurant is still trying to earn back their losses from the past six to seven months.

"The hospitality industry already took a massive hit in the first half of the year and these closures will only exacerbate any financial challenges these businesses are already having to deal with," Chang told Expats.

In the meantime, while restaurants remain closed, QQ Asian Kitchen offers a takeout window and delivery through Wolt.

"I’m just trying to be as optimistic as possible," Chang said. "I don’t see closing as an option at the moment, and really believe if we survive this we will come out stronger as well as more appreciative of what’s important to all of us."

Photo courtesy of QQ Asian Kitchen/Facebook. Many of their dishes, like this one, are now available for delivery on Wolt.
Photo courtesy of QQ Asian Kitchen/Facebook. Many of their dishes, like this one, are now available for delivery on Wolt.

Bohemia Board and Brews: "We Might Not Have the Rent This Month."

Other spots in Prague had barely begun to return to full operating hours when the announcement hit. The popular expat spot Bohemia Boards and Brews in Vršovice, which first opened in 2016, had parsed down their opening hours to just weekends when the new measures came into effect.

The first lockdown did not affect them as much as other places, the owner, Doug Kaufman, told Expats.cz via email. But the pub and board game spot expects to be hit harder this time as fall is the start of their peak season.

"We’re just buttoning up, hoarding as much cash as we can until we can be sure that there won’t be any more spikes," Kaufman said.

The most challenging part of the pandemic has been the unpredictability, Kaufman said. The inability to plan ahead had a much bigger effect on the board game spot than the closures.

Photo courtesy of Bohemia Boards & Brews/Facebook
Photo courtesy of Bohemia Boards & Brews/Facebook

"We’d have weeks where we were almost empty and I’m calling the landlord telling him we might not have the rent this month," Kaufman said "The next week we’re completely booked and everything is fine again. We had Saturdays that were empty, followed by a Sunday completely packed."

Bohemia Boards and Brews had plans to expand this year, but those plans have been put on hold due to the pandemic.

Turning to Take-Out and Delivery

Many restaurants are now shifting to take-out and delivery orders to sustain their businesses, but delivery comes at a high cost for struggling restaurants.

In fact, several trade organizations - including the Confederation of Trade and Tourism , the Association of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises and the Association of Hotels and Restaurants - called on delivery companies like Wolt and Dame Jidlo to reduce their fees on the price of meals. Oftentimes, these companies can charge anywhere from 30 percent to 40 percent per meal.

Some spots, like the Oat Bar in Karlin, which had a soft opening in December 2019, always had takeaway and delivery options planned into their business structure. Still, the cost of delivery cuts into their profits as a new business.

Photo courtesy of The Oat Bar/Facebook
Photo courtesy of The Oat Bar/Facebook

"This type of sales has become an important source of business, however, these services cost a lot for cafés and restaurants," Anita, the owner of The Oat Bar, told Expats.cz.

Delivery offers another challenge for her budding business, Anita said: the lack of personal connection with customers.

"Being a family business, we keep on paying a lot of attention to the customer service. We like remembering people’s choices, taste or dietary preferences and we don’t mind asking them about their days or how they are doing in general," Anita said. "We are afraid of losing this ‘personal touch’ already as we don’t just offer healthy meals but a very unique atmosphere with them."

In the midst of the pandemic, one restaurant opens its doors

But while some restaurants struggle to adjust to the new normal, a former steakhouse has opened its doors in the middle of the pandemic.

Photo courtesy of Čestr
Photo courtesy of Čestr

Čestr, located in the new State Opera building, reopened Oct. 15 - one day after restaurants were forced to close. The restaurant, owned by the Ambiente groups, serves local Czech beef, over a charcoal grill and hearty traditional sides.

"We were going to open Čestr Ambiente tomorrow, but we will not deprive you of grand opening the restaurant," the restaurant wrote on its Facebook page.

The steakhouse is now accepting pick up orders via telephone (739 287 266) or directly from its dispensing window, open daily from 11 am to 8 pm. The restaurant said it is currently working on a delivery service.