Joburg restaurant owners brace themselves for bleak festive season

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Restaurant owners in Johannesburg are bracing themselves for a bleak festive season after the announcement that they should close operations by 10 pm. On Monday President Cyril Ramaphosa announced new regulations as the country grapples with a second wave of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Amongst them are 11 pm to 4 am curfew and a limit on the number of people attending gatherings.

Under Alert Level 5 – implemented in March, restaurants were prohibited from operating. In June, the industry was able to render services but only for takeaways, and in August restaurants were then able to open their doors to consumers under strict regulations.

The restaurant industry has expressed disappointment in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement that restaurants should close by 10 pm with immediate effect. Just nine months ago, the industry took a knock after the President announced a hard lockdown. As the country came to an abrupt halt, the economy was lowered to its knees and the livelihoods of many South Africans were threatened.

Among them are waitresses and waiters. With restaurants prohibited to operate during Level 5 of the lockdown – in an attempt to limit human contact – those who work in the hospitality industry were severely affected and after the President’s announcement of a curfew for restaurants, some fear they will be affected again.

“The President’s announcement has affected us a lot because when we have to leave early and chase customers away, they get angry and end up refusing to tip us, waiters. So it really affects us. Many events end after 12pm. Now people are canceling their events because restaurants have to close early,” says an employee.

“This thing has really affected us as waitresses because we were hoping that since it’s December, it’s the festive season, we’d be able to make money. Now the time has gone back to 10 pm and the time is now 11 pm. Some of us have debit orders and debt, we were still trying to pay those things. This thing is taking us backward,” adds another employee.

Restaurant owners say they are now forced to reverse the plans they had made for their establishments during the festive season, a move that will ultimately result in a loss in revenue.

“People over festive tend to party a little bit later into the night so us having to close the restaurants a bit earlier, this means that the revenue that we were going to acquire in those couple of hours is going to be cut off. So whatever we have had planned for the festive, we are having to cut off everything,” says a restaurant owner.

“About two weeks ago we noticed a drastic drop in food traffic and we’re battling to get traction back from a food traffic point of view. So for us, it’s been incredibly obvious that people are defaulting the way of takeaways and they’re actively avoiding public spaces,” adds another restaurant owner.

However, CEO of the Restaurants Association of South Africa (RASA), Wendy Alberts, says that while the Association is not completely happy with the President’s announcement, it is happy that it was not met with a complete shutdown. Alberts says the move will present operational and financial challenges to the industry but has called on all stakeholders to comply.

“We believe that the President has done his level best to accommodate and balance livelihoods. The negotiations and compromises are a clear indication of the arrangements and agreements that we had with the Department and Government and we are grateful that we can continue to trade and we were not put in a complete shutdown. So we certainly do think that it is a really difficult decision between balancing the second wave as well as allowing our business in particular to trade. We really need to ensure that the patrons and the consumers behave and that their behaviour is radically changed in order for us not to be prejudiced,” says Alberts.

Restaurant Association reacts to new curfew hours:

South Africa currently has over 873 600 COVID-19 infections and over 23 600 COVID-19 fatalities.

Latest COVID-19 stats:

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