Durban's Florida Road had a reputation as its party street. While restaurants can now open, stringent regulations will put a damper on the vibe.
Durban's Florida Road had a reputation as its party street. While restaurants can now open, stringent regulations will put a damper on the vibe.

Dinner’s ready ... but no booze

By Frank Chemaly Time of article published Jun 27, 2020

Share this article:

Durban - What has been dished up for restaurant owners is not enough. But come Monday, many will make do with the string of stringent regulations which Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane unveiled last night after an agonising eight-day wait.

The biggest disappointment for the industry was the ban on the sale of alcohol in establishments, one of the aspects it had campaigned for hardest.

“It takes all the fun out of eating out. Please let us give our customers the whole experience, not half the experience,” said Marcelle Roberts, owner of Durban’s Café 1999, Unity and S43.

The decision will hurt an industry that’s been particularly hard hit with almost 100 days of closure. Kubayi-­Ngubane said about 30% of the country’s restaurants had already been forced to close permanently.

The onerous regulations on eating establishments include:

  • No direct limits on the number of people in a restaurant but everyone needs to be seated 1.5m apart with clear pathways to till points
  • All guests, staff and suppliers have to be sanitised.
  • All guests, staff and suppliers have to be screened and records kept.
  • All guests, staff and suppliers have to wear masks at all times except when they are eating or drinking.
  • No buffets are allowed.
  • Restaurants need a clearly demarcated collection area 1.5m from kitchens and two till points.
  • Menus and tables have to be sanitised before and after use.
  • Waiting staff must stand 1m from the table when taking orders.
  • Employers must train employees on the Covid-19 protocols including mask procedure, physical distancing, basic hygiene, handling of orders and delivery to customers.

Wendy Alberts of the Restaurant Association of South Africa was pleased that restaurants were opening but said the association would be challenging the no alcohol regulations with government over the coming week. She said the association had asked for, but had still not been given, reasons for the ban.

“We’re glad to welcome diners back. We will show our responsibility and ensure the protocols are met. Health and safety is our highest value in the food chain. Our customers’ safety is a priority to us,” Alberts said.

Roberts said her customers were desperate to go out but couldn’t enjoy a bottle of wine with their meal. "Restaurants are supposed to be relaxed, happy places but this will feel very strained. If they could limit it to two glasses per person. I understand the government’s concerns about shebeens and taverns - but a restaurant is a very different vibe.”

Roberts also sees changes in the industry. “When we open, we will have a limited menu to eliminate waste.”

Staff will also be minimal. “We need Covid officers at the door to take temperatures and fill in a register so that if there’s an infection we can trace you. And there’s all the hand sanitiser and cleansing after each sitting. These are all extra costs.

“With no alcohol, restaurants might be more like a food court with tables very spaced out, paper plates so there’s no washing up and no one no touching anything,” she said.

Zohra Teke of Sofra Istanbul in Durban’s Florida Road, was looking forward to opening this week, but stressed that winning customers’ confidence was key. 

“We’re only opening our outside area because health experts recommend fresh air spaces, and we will have a phased approach to opening the inside.”

The restaurant has replaced menus with a QR code customers scan and the menu downloads on their phones. 

“You won’t have to touch anything. The pandemic has forced us to be innovative. We will also put in Turkish-style screens between tables,” said Teke.

Zane Ramnundlall of Butcher 

Block in Florida Road said a 50% 

occupancy would allow it to have “a stable operation”.

Regarding the regulations on alcohol, Ramnundlall was phlegmatic.

“On the one hand it might be difficult to persuade people to go to Florida Road. But people might be happy just to get out of the house as opposed to getting a quick takeaway,” he said.

With the way coronavirus cases were peaking, he thought it unlikely anything would get back to normal before December “at the earliest”. 

“A lot of people are afraid to get out of the house. There have been massive job losses. We must prepare for the economic impact,” he said.

Regarding the reopening of cinemas and theatres, Sanjeev Singh, director of Videovision Entertainment, said cinemas planned to open on July 24.

While it was still not completely clear whether the limit of 50 people was per cinema or cinema complex, he expected most of the bigger sites to do staggered show times so there were not a lot of people congregating in lobbies and ticketing areas.

He said that while shows normally had six showings a day, these would be reduced to four so there was time between shows for sanitising cinemas.

“More important is to have people wearing masks throughout the movie and to sell every alternative seat.”

He also didn’t see older audiences coming back in sufficient numbers this year. “They will only come back once there is a vaccine,” he said.

Roland Stansell of Durban’s Rhumbelow Theatre also didn’t want to rush into opening. 

“There are a whole load of implications. We don’t want to burn our fingers. We need protocols to screen everyone coming in. 

“We’re looking at buying a sanitising machine that will kill all the germs in the theatre,” Stansell said.

While social distancing at the Rhumbelow Tina’s in Kloof would probably not be practical, the original Umbilo theatre could accommodate it. 

“Can those that are cohabiting sit together? Do we need to confirm it in writing?” he asked.

And then there’s the problem of social distancing the performers. 

“We can do a one or two-man show, but we can’t social distance on the stage if we have a band.”

He is currently conducting a Facebook poll to see if “people would actually come” if we opened. “They may be too scared,” he said.

He also pointed out that without bar turnover, revenue would be down.

Durban’s Barnyard will not open because it needs at least 75% occupancy.

Haniff Hoosen, DA spokesperson on co-operative governance, welcomed yesterday’s relaxation, but said the regulations were illogical and not backed by any scientific data.

The Independent on Saturday

Share this article: