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Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels.

Restaurant industry opens up about lockdown

By Debashine Thangevelo, Clinton Moodley and Lutho Pasiya Time of article published Mar 25, 2020

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With South Africa in lockdown for 21 days, several individuals from the restaurant sector served up some of the harsh realities around how this impacts them and the industry.

RESTAURATEUR

Right now, the 21-days lockdown to help flatten the curve of Covid-19 in SA is a double-edged sword for restaurateurs as they figure out how to maintain their overheads and still pay staff - where possible. 

Prior to the announcement, most restaurants were offering kerbside call-and-collect as well as general takeaway services to offset the loss of sit-in patrons. That has since changed following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement on Monday.

Larry Hodes, the owner of Arbour Cafe & Courtyard, Voodoo Lily, Calexico and The Dark Kitchen, was frank about the challenges being faced.

He said: You know what -  and I think I can speak for quite a few restaurateurs - it’s tough. There is absolutely no doubt about it. When the first cases were reported, you could notice a small downturn. It wasn’t a huge downturn. And then when Cyril spoke the previous Sunday, Arbour Cafe declined by 90 percent for the rest of the week. 

Voodoo Lily declined by about 60 percent. And when the liquor laws were announced, because Calexico is a bar, we closed immediately. 

“Then its a concern of still having to pay staff salaries. If you think about it, we are going into the last two weeks of the month and now this is a great time to earn as much money so that we can pay our salaries, pay our suppliers, pay everything. 

"Right now, from a cash flow perspective, while I’m talking on my behalf, I would like to think that I’m talking for a lot of people with restaurants, people are in a bad space from a business perspective. They are in an absolutely shocking space because here we are and it is reaching a stage where I’m having to decline valued suppliers because my main priority is my staff before anything. I’m already thinking about how I’m going to pay salaries. 

"And then I’ve got some suppliers, who are phoning and requesting money. I’ve said to a couple, let’s put this on hold. And some have been great. Some are saying, instead of paying R2 000 can you at least pay R500. There has been a lot of juggling.”

When asked about the rentals, he revealed: “I’m sure my landlord is going to come and say, you know what you can take a rental holiday but the concern being is that we still owe that money. When we open the business, then the landlord is going to come and say, okay cool, you’ve had a month off where we didn’t charge you but now we have to make that up.

“I believe it’s going to take a while for us to get out of this. I’m talking on behalf restaurateurs but what about all other retailers and all other businesses. Disposal income from the economy is gone. Even if corona gets to zero, people are not going to have as much money to spend because they are going to be catching up.”

On how he is coping, he shared: “Is my head in a good space? I’m going to say I’m in a good space because I know I’m not the only one who might not be able to pay their bonds, pay their rent and many other things.”

“I have four restaurants, so, on the lighter side, I should not be running out of food,” he joked.

He is also looking at distributing it among his staff, where possible. 

Hodes is determined to see the positive in the current situation.

He added: “Even though the money is not there, I'm seeing this in three, four or five weeks, whatever it is, as a great opportunity where I’m really going to make my business even better. It’s going to give me time to refine my business. Look at the things that are working, that is not working. I really believe, at the end of this period, even though financially I’m f****d, I believe that my businesses are going to be stronger in six months time". 

THE WAITERS

A  duty manager for a KwaZulu-Natal restaurant, Mazvita Zanamwe, said the restaurant will close until the lockdown is over. 

She said that workers will be on leave and paid for the duration of the lockdown.

Zanamwe said she sympathised for those who would lose their jobs during the lockdown period, but encouraged them to use the time to reflect and focus on themselves.   "It is a tough time, but it will get better."

Michelle Mubaira, a 21-year-old waitress from Stellenbosch, said the covid-19 lockdown will impact the restaurant business significantly, especially since Stellenbosch is a popular tourist spot. 

"We are awaiting feedback from our owner about what will happen to the restaurant and it's workers after the lockdown. Not having job security at this time will cause a huge dent in our finances. We will be at home until we hear what our fate is,  she said.

She put her plans to study an events management course at the University of Cape Town in April on hold. 

She will use the money she saved for the university to support her during this difficult time.

Luvuyo Jokozela, a bar supervisor at La Rosa, Suncoast, said: “Things are hectic. We did not take it seriously at first until it started grilling a hole in our pockets. 

"Ever since the outbreak, people stopped going to restaurants, only a few people went to dine out, so the percentage of sales dropped. You only get seventy-five percent of your salary and some of us cannot even manage to pay rent at this moment. 

"Now, imagine there are places where workers are only getting paid commission according to the sales they have made, therefore no sales means those people will not get paid. This pandemic has affected our daily living and we just don’t know what to do. The government must quickly find a solution to it.” 

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