Tossed Cafe: Restaurants turn into a quiet place in Ramadan 2020

April 30, 2020

'Meriah' is how Haerris Riani describes Ramadan 2019 at his cafe, Tossed in Jaya Shopping Centre, with at least half-a-dozen tables of customers breaking fast every sunset, tucking into lamb biryani with complimentary drinks and desserts.

This Ramadan is the reverse - empty seats and hushed evenings are expected throughout the fasting month, with physical distancing curbs unlikely to be relaxed for restaurants soon. But iftar in 2020 isn't scrapped, with eateries like Tossed counting on takeouts to spice up buka puasa at home.

Ramadan 2019 at Tossed

Like many mall-based venues, Tossed - which first opened in 2014 - now maintains stringent health rules. Only staff members are permitted in the cafe; everyone signs health declarations and undergoes regular temperature checks. Face masks and hand sanitisers are available for their use. Haerris has set up sejadah prayer mat spaces, so his staff stay in for prayers. They also remain in the cafe for lunch, leaving only to send out food, visit the restroom or return home.

In early April, Haerris held out hope that it would be safe enough for dining in by now. Tossed promised discounts for group diners throughout Ramadan, with progressively higher savings for larger tables.

Those discounts have been infused into deliveries until May 23. “We calculate the discounts by the number of main courses. If you order three mains, you'll enjoy a 10% discount; for four to five mains, 15%; and six or more is 20% off," Haerris says.

"We held this promotion last year and had positive feedback. Customers like the concept, because a lot of people iftar with large groups, not alone. We had numerous bookings last year - six to ten tables each night. It was very lively, meriah."

The cafe's Ramadan repertoire is extensive - lamb biryani makes a comeback as the dish of the month, alongside local classics galore, from asam pedas fish to laksa Johor, gulai lemak udang to sweet-sour chicken and more. Western specialities include plenty of pastas.

Tossed also offers daily kuih-muih that changes throughout the week, freshly made each session (requiring one-day advance orders) for this season's fix of bingka ubi and kuih lapis Nyonya. Click here for the entire menu and to order online.

Before March, dining in contributed some 90 percent of Tossed's revenue. Deliveries won't make up the shortfall, but Haerris is grateful to Tossed's longtime loyalists for helping the cafe survive. “I'm actually quite stunned that we're getting a good response from regulars (for deliveries). I'd say, we are getting by. We're not at the red line. We’re sustaining ourselves, which is the aim at the moment.

“Dining in won't pick up till the end of the year. So get online and get in touch with all your customers with a database. I WhatsApp them, I email them. You have to be proactive - create a sense of ‘Tossed is online, you can order, you can even pre-order.' Give them options and space to support.”

Tossed's deliveries include a #FeedTheFrontliners effort, enabling customers to treat delivery riders to a meal, drink or fruits. "A lot of riders will be on the road, so they won't have time to purchase their own meal to break fast," Haerris notes.

While people are fasting, they shouldn't have to go hungry if restaurants can feed them. Tossed hosted orphans for buka puasa in 2019; this year, it hopes to send meals to an orphanage if it can afford it. “During Ramadan, we should be giving sedekah if we’re able to. We had a lot of support from customers last year, so we approached an anak yatim home, and the children came over after maghrib to have iftar here."

Another scene from Ramadan 2019 at Tossed

Tossed is one of nearly 120 restaurants participating in Eat Drink KL's Faith For The Future. Purchase a cash voucher at eatdrinkkl.com/faith and enjoy a 10 percent discount off your bill when you redeem the voucher within four months. The restaurant will receive your payment within three working days. Click here to read about Faith For The Future.

Reporting by EDKL writer Aiman Azri. Interview excerpts were edited for brevity. Images are courtesy of Tossed.

This is the sixth part in our series on how people working in Malaysia's restaurants, cafes and bars are confronting their current challenges.

Click on titles below to read more:

Chiu's: A Restaurant Founder's Pandemic Work Diary

Barista blues: A Malaysian cafe's precarious future weighs on its workers

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