Restaurant Collective spokesperson Grace Harding shares the huge impact that Level 4 restrictions will have on sit-down dining restaurants and implores the government to urgently reconsider its approach.

The plight of sit-down restaurants needs to be urgently reconsidered. The broad, unsubtle approach of the current adjusted Level 4 lockdown restrictions that lumps together sit-down restaurants, take-aways, 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.

We are not the problem

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. Many restaurants have popular sit-down outdoor areas that provide the ideal spacing and ventilation. From the outset, a sit-down restaurant has a completely different, controlled set of operations compared to a bar or take-away venue.

We respect and understand the dangers of COVID.  The Restaurant Collective has stringent COVID safety protocols in place which it developed using global best practice 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.

Take-away is not an option

A sit-down restaurant’s expenses far outstrip those of any other form of eatery and cannot just be switched off when limited trade is enforced.  The revenue model of a sit-down restaurant cannot be adapted for take-aways overnight. And many sit-down restaurant offerings simply do not work in a take-away model.  The expenses of running a restaurant far surpass any possible income that could be made from take-aways – 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 shut downs across the country.

The survival of the entire industry is incumbent upon sit-down restaurants restarting, because take-aways are not a solution to save our restaurants. Thousands of restaurants have already closed down. There are now approximately 30 000 sit-down restaurants in SA – each employing an average of 30 people.  The value chain of damage is devastating.

The Solution is simple

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, 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.

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 at least let us open.  At the very least, consider a regional plan for the sector as infection rates are tracked. We implore the government.

The Restaurant Collective (R|C) is the voice of the sit-down restaurant industry in SA

Picture credit: Unsplash | Andrew Seaman