Word on the street: How corona

Photo: Adobe Stock

Word on the street: How coronavirus is affecting the SA restaurant scene

An insider’s look into the devastating toll COVID-19 could have on the SA restaurant scene as small businesses battle it out to stay open.

Word on the street: How corona

Photo: Adobe Stock

The SA restaurant industry is abuzz for all the wrong reasons this week as the coronavirus impacts yet another sector in its entirety. 

With uncertainty setting in after the government’ announced an alcohol curfew in response to the current coronavirus threat, many are left with questions, concerns and may even be forced to shut shop completely for the time being. 

Restaurant Association of South Africa (Rasa) CEO Wendy Alberts has stated that:

Our restaurants may continue to trade within their normal trading hours, they can continue to do their deliveries and collections, but they can only sell liquor between the hours of 9am to 6pm weekdays and weekends by 1pm. It also has to be 50 people or less in the establishment and that includes staff. This directive comes from the government with warnings that should this not be adhered to ‘further steps will be taken for a complete shutdown’.”

The financial ramifications of coronavirus on restaurants 

The question on many restaurateurs’ lips is that given this closure and the fact that it’s government-mandated, will there be some form of support or relief for restaurants and bars in the days/ or weeks to follow?

As it stands, it does not appear that this kind of crisis is covered by insurance and no formal support structures seem to exist. Restaurant owners, however, hope that some may emerge as the pandemic progresses and the true impact is felt on the economy. 

Photo: Adobe Stock

Insider’s insight 

The South African chatted to Grub & Vine chef patron and The Chefs Studio’s Matt Manning about the current situation. Manning summed up many other sentiments within the industry in his reply:

“We are a small, family-owned business with 18 staff members in our employ — many of whom are the sole breadwinners in their families. Our priority is retaining the staff in our employ and paying salaries. 

“On the one hand, we realise the devastating impact if the virus were to spread, particularly with SA having an overburdened healthcare system; and on the other hand, we recognise our responsibility as an employer, given our already teetering economy.

“The number of taxpayers is disproportionate to our population, and employment already sits at 30%. If businesses were to close, the impact to the economy would be crippling.”

Chef Matt Manning at Grub & Vine. Photo: Supplied

Walking the tightrope 

It’s a tightrope situation that all South African small businesses currently have to walk. Restaurant industry et al.

The next few days will undoubtedly play a huge part in decision-making as to whether restaurants can afford to stay open or not. To top this, there’s the concern of whether the public will practically support these establishments in this time of fear and self-isolation.

An entire sector will be irrevocably hit for the conceivable future. 

Photo: Adobe Stock

Where to from here?

We asked Manning for some final comments on the future of the restaurant industry:

Even when the situation stabilises, we anticipate that it will be a long time before things will return to normal. Tourism has taken a knock (which our economy is very reliant on), and thanks to the worldwide recession, there will be less money for entertainment and non-essential expenditure – which will extend beyond the pandemic itself.

For the time being, the positive remains in seeing how these small businesses are further supporting one another and fighting the fire with innovation during this trying time. 

From the rise of “snack menus”, for those who wish to eat out, but don’t want to spend extended periods of time in public to reducing menu options, as well as supporting small businesses for food deliveries and private dining options for at-home dining for intimate gatherings.