South African restaurants call to open at level 3 – under these conditions

 ·14 May 2020

A lobby group called The Restaurant Collective, says that the seven week Covid-19 lockdown in South Africa could well be a nail in the coffin for the restaurant industry – an ecosystem that employs half a million people.

It has called for the immediate approval of call-and-collect for sit-down restaurants, extended trading hours until 21h00, and the opening – with necessary restrictions – at level 3.

Government is considering a proposal to move the country to level 3 of the national Covid-19 lockdown by the end of May, president Cyril Ramaphosa said.

Addressing the nation on Wednesday evening, Ramaphosa said government is preparing for a further easing of the lockdown and a gradual opening of the economy, from the current level 4 lockdown.

“We will immediately begin a process of consultation with relevant stakeholders on a proposal that by the end of May, most of the country be placed on alert level 3, but that those parts of the country with the highest rates of infection remain on level 4.”

“We will make further announcements after the completion of the consultations,” said the president.

This comes after the government implemented a risk-adjusted strategy aimed at easing the current lockdown restrictions.

However, hot spot areas with high infection rates will remain under level 4, he said.

The Restaurant Collective is headed by Ocean Basket chief executive officer, Grace Harding, representing 152 restaurants, with the likes of  Tashas (17), Del Forno (39), Col’Cacchio (30), Doppio Zero (16), and Famous Brands “Signature Brands” (159) signatories.

“Directly and indirectly, we employ at least half a million people,” said Harding in an open letter.

“The impact of every single restaurant reaches out like a spider’s web affecting the livelihood of hundreds of others – our suppliers: farmers, SMMEs, factories producing syrups and sauces, small wholesalers, digital media agencies, designers and shopfitters, pest control, plumbers and electricians, delivery platforms, media platforms like Eat Out and Zomato… the list is endless.

“This extends further. Malls where most restaurants are based are social places; people visit to mingle, to meet. We are large drawcards in this milieu, especially in urban areas where people have limited living space. We fulfil a crucial social role,” she said.

For the short term, Harding said the industry body will address the challenges created by the current Covid-19 lockdown and on-going trade restrictions.

Currently, under lockdown Level 4, the sale of takeaways is permitted for delivery only from fast food outlets and restaurants. Restaurants can open for food delivery services between 09h00 to 20h00 – and are subject to curfew, with no sit-down or pick-up allowed.

As an example, The Spur Corporation, the owner of RocoMamas and Panarottis Pizza Pasta, noted that only 47 of 77, and 19 of 87 restaurants, respectively, are currently trading.

At level 3, restaurants are also only permitted to operate for delivery, while moving to level 1 would see restaurants opening for sit-down, take-away and delivery – although this is still some way off from becoming a reality, according to comments by the president himself.

“Let us remember that although the lockdown has slowed down the rate of transmission, the coronavirus is very much still present – and will be present among us for a long time to come,” he said on Wednesday.

“Our success in overcoming the coronavirus will ultimately be determined by the changes we make in our behaviour.

“As restrictions are eased, we will need to observe social distancing even more carefully, wear face masks whenever we leave home, wash hands regularly with soap and water or sanitiser, and avoid contact with other people. We will need to adapt to new ways of worshipping, socialising, exercising and meeting that minimise opportunities for the virus to spread,” the president said.

What restaurants want

Given the impact of the current lockdown regulations – and the fact these restrictions are likely to be in place for a long time – the collective is asking government to consider several recommendations that address the sustainability of the industry in the short term, and the long-term.

The Restaurant Collective has made the following recommendations moving forward:

“For the longer term, we will address additional issues, many pre-existing, that are further reaching with the aim of building a strong, resilient foundation for the industry as a whole to thrive,” said Harding.

Longer term objectives

  • Create a healthy sit-down restaurant industry to ensure longevity;
  • Build a safe, enjoyable environment for customers;
  • Encourage entrepreneurship across the restaurant value chain;
  • Contribute to the country and its economy.

Harding said that the group’s mission is to “collectively reinvent all aspects of the sit-down restaurant industry”.

“Collectively means together with all players – from banks and government to landlords and key suppliers – alongside relevant associations like RASA, FASA and FEDHASA. We want to connect us all and draw on years of expertise.”

Read: Spur reconfigures for deliveries – after the lockdown wiped out virtually all material income in April

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