Eateries in Penang suffer but food delivery firms do brisk business

Malaysia's skyline is blanketed by haze in Kuala Lumpur, on Sept 18, 2019.
Malaysia's skyline is blanketed by haze in Kuala Lumpur, on Sept 18, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

GEORGE TOWN • While restaurants and traders in Malaysia are suffering from the haze, online food delivery companies are laughing all the way to the bank.

Penang's famous nasi kandar outlet Nasi Kandar Line Clear was among those that saw a drastic drop in business on Thursday as air pollution reached unhealthy levels in the country.

Instead of the usual packed tables and long queues, the restaurant in Penang Road was nearly empty, save for a few customers.

"It is almost 11am, and we still have not had our usual customers coming in," said Line Clear's proprietor Sahubar Ali Inachina Mohd Hanibah. "People are heeding the warnings by the state authorities and are opting for takeaways and home cooking, which is definitely bad for our business."

The owner of Weld Quay Oo Qio dessert stall said on Thursday that he suffered a 40 per cent drop in business due to the haze.

Mr Koay Beng Tatt, 36, who inherited the business from his grandfather, said only a few regular customers have been patronising his stall lately.

On most days, there is usually a line of people waiting to order their favourite dessert, including the stall's famous oh kio dessert, also known as aiyu jelly.

"My customers come here to have their dessert under the shady tree, and motorcyclists would order takeaways," he told The Star. "But now, with the haze, most people are seeking shelter indoors," said Mr Koay.

Online food delivery companies, however, are doing brisk business.


DeliverEat said it has seen daily orders surge 40 per cent recently.

"We have daily meal orders of 8,000, but this has now increased to more than 11,000 over the last few days," said the company's co-founder Leong Shir Mein.

"People are health-conscious and are not taking any chances. Furthermore, it is convenient to order in," she said.

Ms Leong said she makes sure that the company's employees wear their face masks when they make their delivery rounds.

Business has also slowed for trishaw pedallers in Penang Road, many of whom could be seen sleeping on the trishaw seats while waiting for customers.

"On clear days, the number of customers is already close to zero," said one of them, who declined to give his name. "Now with the haze, we have zero customers... We have spent the past few days waiting for a miracle."

Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said the haze, caused by smoke from forest fires in Indonesia, would affect the state's tourism and manufacturing industries.

"Flight cancellations or diverted flights will bring inconvenience to tourists and also our own people who are coming back or going out. For those in industry, they are concerned about whether consignments can be delivered on time for use in production," he said at a media conference after an event on Thursday.

"Hopefully, the haze problem will go away as soon as possible. The longer it drags on, the more the impact, the more losses are incurred," he said.

Air quality in Penang improved on Thursday, with the Air Pollutant Index (API) readings in Balik Pulau and Minden falling to the unhealthy levels of 162 and 142, respectively, in the afternoon, from the very unhealthy levels of 234 and 205 at 1am.

An API reading of between zero and 50 is good, 51 to 100 is moderate, 101 to 200 is unhealthy, 201 to 300 is very unhealthy, and 301 and above is hazardous.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2019, with the headline 'Eateries in Penang suffer but food delivery firms do brisk business'. Print Edition | Subscribe