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OPINION: “The death of dining: sit-down restaurants will not survive” – Restaurant Collective

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Sit-down restaurants are environments where people who know one another come to sit down and enjoy meals together. There is minimal movement among tables and social distancing is easy to enforce as seating arrangements are already in place. From the outset, a sit-down restaurant has a completely different, controlled set of operations compared to a bar or takeaway venue. Many restaurants also have popular outdoor areas that provide the ideal spacing and ventilation.

The broad, unsubtle approach of the current adjusted Level 4 lockdown restrictions that lumps together sit-down restaurants, takeaways, bars, taverns and other eateries, reveals a simple lack of understanding of the operations of each sector and how to best serve and protect the people and the jobs in those sectors.

The survival of the entire industry is incumbent upon sit-down restaurants. There are now approximately 30 000 sit-down restaurants in South Africa – each employing an average of 30 people. The value chain of damage is devastating.

Our spokesperson for The Restaurant Collective and CEO of Ocean Basket, Grace Harding, says that restaurant owners and chefs are at the end of their tether. “I’ve spoken to Steve from The Local Grill, Marius from La Boqueria and James from Coobs. When you see these guys’ faces, you’ll want to cry. It is heart-breaking. They have no more fight left in them,” she says.

We respect and understand the dangers of COVID. The Restaurant Collective has stringent COVID safety protocols in place which it developed using global best practices and has freely shared for the sake of the entire industry. We continue to distribute and reiterate these protocols and have demonstrated our support by showing leadership, engaging and providing free information and support for everyone in our industry.  There remains no scientific basis to continue to discriminate against us.

The revenue model of a sit-down restaurant cannot be adapted for takeaways overnight. The expenses of running a restaurant far surpass any possible income that could be made from takeaways; rent cannot be covered, loan repayments cannot be honoured, staff cannot be paid. Landlords and financial institutions are under pressure and the industry faces major shutdowns across the country.

“How are you going to have a beautiful steak from Marble in a takeaway box?” asks Grace. “Ocean Basket and Spur can make R10 – that R10 is not even helping.”

Our plea is not only about survival now, but the impact on this industry into the future. If we do not open on Monday 12th July at the latest, the impact will shatter the sector. There will be no bouncing back from this and thousands more will remain unemployed and desperate. There is no TERS or other financial support for employees. Restaurant owners have nothing left in reserve and we want to keep people safe.

There is precedent for level 4 amendments: speaking at the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) on Covid-19 press briefing on Tuesday, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said: “Under this gazetted Level 4, work is permitted in most industries, so the livelihoods are being protected whilst we are trying to save lives” as she announced that hotels may operate at full capacity.

We implore the government to please show us the same courtesy and allow us to open with a curfew in place. And if alcohol cannot be served for a short time, we will live with that. But let us open for sit-down service. At the very least, consider a regional plan for the sector as infection rates are tracked.

The Restaurant Collective (R|C) is dedicated to providing a clear, consistent and unified voice for the sit-down restaurant industry in South Africa and to create both short and long-term benefits for its ecosystem as well as up-skilling the industry’s workforce.

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