With more than a year of confinement behind us, the words “curfew” and “family reunion” sound a little different. We have seen our fair share of restaurant closings but, more importantly, we have seen a change in the industry and chefs and restaurateurs continue to fight their way through the constant roller coaster that this pandemic has taken them.
In response to the third wave hitting some provinces, President Ramaphosa addressed the nation last week and announced that the country would move to Lockdown Adjusted Alert Level 2 effective May 31. While some of the new regulations may seem minor for restaurants, there are still concerns for the industry, especially with the onset of winter.
The only real change for the restaurants is the reinstatement of the evening curfew at 11 p.m. This new hour now forces restaurants and bars to close at 10 p.m. While to many this doesn’t sound too drastic, chefs and restaurateurs fear it will deter people from dining out.
David Higgs of Marble and Saint echoes this: “It’s more of a psychological thing than anything else. There is only one hour difference, but it is winter, it is colder, and people guess less and less to go out. Most importantly, being in the hospitality industry and asking people to leave your restaurant at 10pm just isn’t right. But we must not complain, we are busy and we must continue. Marble and Saint are always more lekker for the winter, so we hope this continues. It’s just about adapting, redesigning and rethinking, ”he says.
As David says, restaurants had to be overhauled and that’s something El Burro owner Nic Haarhoff had to do with his Green Point restaurant.
“We are certainly in an interesting new normal. With the third wave looming, the offloads, the economically strained customers, there are a lot of factors at play right now that make trading interesting, ”says Nic. After downsizing their 160-seat restaurant upstairs and moving into the 40- to 50-seat space downstairs, Nic says they’ve minimized their rental exposure. “It’s a model that we know is more streamlined and resistant to containment,” he explains.
Kylan Pather, owner of Lucky Shaker in Umhlanga, explains that there are two sides to this: “I think now, more than ever, we should come together as a country and be a little more aware. It only takes a weakened immune system to infect an entire family. In saying that, support the local businesses around – whether it’s takeout or at a socially distanced table, as we are all always trying to get back on our feet. Without the support of our local and loyal customer base, we will not remain open.
While South Africa has lost countless beloved restaurants, many new places are also opening, giving us the feeling that things will get back to normal someday. One of the restaurants that will open soon is Chef Vusi Ndlovu’s new restaurant in Franschhoek. The chef explains that with this effervescence, he and his team must be careful: “We are opening in a delicate period and we accept it. We have set up emergency plans to ensure the safety of our teams. I have friends overseas who have suffered a lot because of this pandemic, so we are taking all of these lessons into account. “
Concerns aside, chefs and restaurateurs recognize the need for these regulations. “I think it’s good that precautions are already being taken so that things can still work,” says Sandalene Dale Roberts of TTK Fledgelings. “The safety and health of people in the end is the most important thing and we will, of course, take care of our staff as much as we can. I think we are getting a little jaded by all of this and COVID is just part of our daily life. “
Chef James Diack, owner of Il Contadino, Coobs and Antony in Johannesburg, reiterates this saying: “It is extremely important as the restaurant industry that we remain both aware and vigilant so as not to push the limits and risk another foreclosure crushing the industry ”. He also talks about customers who need to step up their efforts: “I’m afraid there is a bit of fatigue from COVID and people are letting their guard down and that may not happen.”
Our amazing restaurant industry has shown how great it is, but now is not the time to get complacent. To this sentiment, Kylan Pather of Lucky Shaker adds, “We are all looking to the future, for sustainability instead of quick cash. This will be the difference between the sites that remain and those that close. “