by Burak Akinci
ANKARA, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- Higher costs for labor and food have raised menu prices across Turkey. Catering business managers have now passed on the higher prices to customers in order to survive.
However, higher prices have also brought about an undesired result: fewer diners, casting a dark cloud over the country's catering industry.
Soaring food and electricity prices and a hike in the minimum wage have pushed restaurants to increase the menu prices by at least 25 percent and even more for some establishments, Evren Corlu, the manager of a small kebab restaurant in the capital city Ankara, told Xinhua.
"The coronavirus pandemic has already impacted our business but now I can assure you that over a third of our customers have stopped to come because of price hikes," Corlu said.
"Our expenses have significantly increased, we didn't have the choice of adjusting our menu to our growing costs, we couldn't survive otherwise," he said.
For many Turkish households who have felt the economic woes, they would rather look for cheaper alternatives with decimating purchasing power amid high inflation.
According to a survey conducted by MetroPoll company, those who say their standard of living has fallen in the last year reached a record of 72 percent while those who see an improvement were at 6 percent.
The minimum wage in Turkey has hiked by 50 percent for 2022 in order to compensate for high inflation, which hit a 20-year high of 36 percent.
But as this wage increase covers most service sector workers, it meant a nearly 40 percent cost increase to the employers, according to Ramazan Bingol, chairman of the All Restaurants and Tourism Association.
"Except for some renowned places, there is a 30 percent decline in the number of customers in the food services industry. The reason for this slump is serious food price hikes," he was quoted by economic daily Dunya as saying.
Corlu's restaurant also offers takeaways which are 20 percent cheaper than menu prices and have become popular with some customers.
"We take our kebabs and drinks and go to a nearby park to eat, it may be not practical in the winter but that's the way it is," a university student called Emre Sezgin said.
A gloomy picture also presents itself for pubs and taverns following a record 47 percent special tax increase on alcoholic beverages in early January, which, according to owners, also caused a decline in customers.
"Some people are not ordering alcoholic drinks anymore or drink a single bottle of beer per person, just to keep the conversation going," Aytekin Uysal, a bar owner in the busy and popular Kucukesat district of Ankara, told Xinhua.
A pint of beer used to be about 15 liras (1.1 U.S. dollar) last year, now it's 25-30 liras (2.2 dollars), Uysal said.
Another bar manager in this district who wished to remain anonymous said that "business is down at least 50 percent" because of liquor price hikes.
In order to attract customers, some restaurants are offering a bring-your-own-alcohol policy, in the hopes that diners who are discouraged by the price of alcohol would still come for the food.
Ankara has promised to tackle food inflation in particular by closely monitoring supermarket chains and retailers for exorbitant prices.
Turkey's parliament has recently approved a legislation that is designed to prevent stockpiling by imposing higher fines for such activities. ■