Restaurants that eagerly await Arab tourists and Lebanese expatriates every summer are once more paying a hefty price because of heightened security fears and advisories by some countries warning against travel to Lebanon .
Restaurants in Beirut that are nearly devoid of patrons have become a common sight these days, with security concerns keeping customers away. “We have lost more than 60 to 65 percent of our usual business,” said Raja Charrouf, manager of Karamna, a popular Downtown eatery that was completely bereft of customers Monday at what would have been a relatively busy lunch time.
Charrouf said the clashes in north Lebanon  and Beirut had dealt a blow to what just two weeks ago had seemed a very promising start of season. He added that he had expected the restaurant to operate at near full capacity at this time of year.
Charrouf said most restaurants and shops in the area depended almost entirely on tourists from the Gulf Cooperation Council, adding that many of his GCC regulars had flown away over the past week.
Kuwait Monday joined three other GCC countries who had called on their citizens to avoid traveling to Lebanon. The United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain had issued similar warnings to their citizens over the weekend, also calling on those visiting Lebanon to leave immediately.
While the warnings have been reported as non-obligatory, many argue that the four GCC states are not giving much choice to their citizens. But it was not only GCC tourists who seemed to have deserted Beirut, said Marwan Abboud, owner of The Peninsula, an Italian restaurant in Beirut’s Gemmayzeh quarter. He said his business depended mainly on young European and American tourists who prefer beer at Gemmayzeh’s little crowded pubs and bistros to Downtown’s fancy restaurants. “Since last week, I have seen activity at the restaurant fall by 60 percent,” Abboud said, adding that the situation made him reconsider plans to expand his business. He said he would resort to various measures to cut costs, including dismissing all temporary employees, if the situation persists.
The manager of Scoozi, another Downtown restaurant, agreed with Charouf and Abboud. He placed the loss in business at more than 50 percent. While ruling out any dismissals in his business, the manager, who did not wish to be identified, said restaurants would not hire any additional staff, an otherwise common measure to meet extra demand in the busiest season of the year.
Ali al-Lami, an Iraqi waiter at another Downtown restaurant, and other Lebanese waiters said the deteriorating situation had been taking a heavy toll on their incomes. Lami said he depended on tips for at least 50 percent of his income, adding he had hardly made any over the last few days.
The Daily Star reported Monday that many hotels started to see cancellations as high as 30 percent since last week when clashes started in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second-biggest city.
More deterioration in security conditions followed Sunday and Monday when three people were killed and 10 wounded in clashes in Beirut’s Tariq al-Jadideh neighborhood.