Iftar catering offers business opportunities for women

August 16, 2010 - 0:0

JEDDAH (ARAB NEWS) -- The majority of mosques in Saudi Arabia will continue to organize iftar meals during the holy month of Ramadan, providing a much needed boost to home catering businesses.

These meals are provided for people who cannot afford to buy their own food to break their fast.
Many people used to bring food from home to the mosque and share it with others. This practice stopped when the Ministry of Islamic Affairs decided two years ago to regulate meals provided at mosques.
This move has created a business opportunity for women to make some profit. Although the Ministry of Islamic Affairs stated that food should be brought from restaurants and food companies certified by the Health Department, some mosques are accepting food from businesswomen who run small catering businesses from home.
During Ramadan, these ventures start to advertise for their business through the Internet and Facebook as well as in shopping places.
“With Ramadan starting, my friends and I started thinking of new ways to benefit from this season. I posted my contact number on the online forums and I received a large number of calls from Saudi women who are planning iftar parties,” said Um Ahmad, a Saudi housewife and mother of two.
“I decide to prepare a meal box, which is easily sold at mosques. Most charity organizations and people who might want to do some charity work are buying meal boxes to distribute to poor people.”
Another 22-year-old budding businesswoman and King Abdulaziz University graduate, who simply goes by the nickname Bint Al-Saudia (the daughter of Saudi Arabia), sees the iftar-catering business as a golden opportunity to make a large profit. She started preparing new dishes to attract people during the month of Ramadan.
“I am trying to benefit from the summer vacation. I started advertising for my meals since the beginning of the season. I am ready to receive meal orders till the end of Shaaban. One meal costs between SR3 to SR7. Each box contains soup, dates, two meat sambousek, two cheese sambousek, and variety of pies,” she said.
She claimed there was a large number of charity organizations and mosques that prefer to buy the homemade iftar meals because they are cheaper.
She added that in the past most charity organizations, mosques, and even housewives were looking to buy iftar meals from certain restaurants.
“Prices are cheaper if you buy from home-cooking businesses. Charity organizations and mosques have started buying iftar meals from us. I charge between SR1,200 to SR1,500 to cater for 300 people. It will cost at least SR3,000 if you buy from restaurants,” said Bint Al-Saudia.
“We also cater for homes and special iftar parties. The average price for a home iftar meal with a variety of dishes would cost around SR700.”
Restaurants are worried about the competition from home businesses and have responded by lowering their prices and providing different varieties of food. “We decided to offer a meal deal containing a half chicken, rice, soup, dates, two sambousek, and a small water bottle for around SR10,” said Ardal Zakria, a Turkish chef working for Middle Class restaurant in Jeddah.
Imams say the Ministry of Islamic Affairs’ decision to regulate the provision of iftar meals at mosques during Ramadan has been ignored.
“Because of the decision by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, we are required to present well-prepared meals. These meals should be brought from health certified and licensed restaurants,” said Secretary-General of the International Authority for New Muslims Khaled Al-Remaihi, who is also an imam at the Naser Al-Assaf mosque in Jeddah’s Al-Khalidiyah district.
“For instance, mosques can be asked to submit a hygiene certificate from the restaurant they order food from. Not all mosques are following the rule. There are a large number of mosques that provide iftar meals brought from their neighbors’ houses, charities and women who work from home during Ramadan.” According to Al-Remaihi, around 300 Muslims are provided with free meals in Al-Assaf Mosque daily during Ramadan.