The Nineteen 89 Restaurant in Plettenberg Bay supported the protest for the reopening of the South African restaurant industry. Picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency(ANA)
The Nineteen 89 Restaurant in Plettenberg Bay supported the protest for the reopening of the South African restaurant industry. Picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency(ANA)

Euphoria, heartbreak as eateries, bars reopen

By Chelsea Geach Time of article published Aug 23, 2020

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THERE’S a euphoric atmosphere as South Africans are allowed to go out for supper and order alcohol at restaurants again – but it may be too little too late to save sectors of the industry.

Wendy Alberts, chief executive of the Restaurant Association of SA (Rasa), said the past week has been a “triumphant moment” as some eateries finally returned to business, but times were still tragically tough for the restaurant industry.

“The country suddenly feels like we’ve won the world cup,” Alberts said. “It’s been a wonderful lift from depression to some sense of hope.

“People are feeling more inspired and motivated to move forward.”

The level 2 regulations came into effect at midnight on Monday, meaning pubs and bars were allowed to operate and restaurants could serve alcohol for four nights.

The 10pm curfew is still in place.

“A lot of restaurants have opened for the first time in five months, and it’s fantastic morale for the bars. Taverns are doing exceptionally good turnovers. It’s lovely to see people coming back to work, to revive those parts of the food chain,” Alberts said.

Alberts said yesterday the week so far delivered a 20% to 30% uptick on sales in restaurants. On average, she said those that could reopen were trading at about 60% – but only time will tell if this is sustainable in terms of consumer budgets.

“Some places are reporting no difference, and some are trading 100% of turnover from last year,” she said.

“It’s early days. There’s this atmosphere that’s joyful, but we need to remember that most people have been hard hit in their cash reserves.

“Their incomes have diminished.”

While some restaurants and pubs are celebrating,others are mourning the loss of their businesses that couldn’t survive lockdown.

“Twenty three weeks have been devastating for us; it’s had a massive impact on restaurants,” Alberts said.

“We’ve seen pain and trauma, a lot of restaurants close down and a lot of people lose their jobs.

“I believe the lockdown lifting for restaurants has come a little bit too late. While we’re celebrating restaurants that have reopened, it’s heartbreaking for those who have lost their businesses – not because of being bad operators, but just because they did not have access to their businesses.”

Under level 2, alcohol sales from liquor stores are only available from Monday to Thursday, but licensed restaurants and bars are still allowed to serve alcohol for on-site consumption on weekends, which could be a big customer draw. However, there has been widespread criticism of the 10pm curfew throughout the industry, as it significantly limits the hours pubs and eateries are able to operate.

Alberts said Rasa would be engaging with the police minister about it, and lobbying to lift the curfew.

“There’s already alcohol; we need to work on people being responsible.

“The curfew is not going to change that behaviour. It just prejudices the restaurant industry.”

Rasa will run a survey from Monday to gather data about the financial impact of lockdown on the food and drinks service industry.

“We need to take this opportunity to rebuild our industry. We need to stop putting restrictions in place and start looking at solutions,” Alberts said.

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