Change is part of life and I believe we have to roll with the punches – adapt, adjust, make a new plan. But the level of uncertainty over the last year and a bit was at a different level and some of us were affected worse than others – the restaurant industry being one. They have adapted all they can, but now they need support.
No one wants to “win” a case against the statistics of people getting sick and dying. But we all want to retain something to live for and if you are a restaurant owner, it is getting harder by the minute. Restaurants don’t need government regulations to struggle. “The latest data from Statistics SA show that restaurants’ income from food and beverages in February was still 30% below pre-pandemic levels. In January, their income was half that of the same month in 2020.” (Read more) Because of the pandemic, people are not flocking to their favourite eatery and overseas guests are not here to spend on local cuisine. Those who are retired and available to come for a week day meal are too compromised to do so and the younger and braver might rather worry about their finances and eat at home.
Having to close down during the dire levels of lockdown and then reopening without serving alcohol, seriously affected the restaurant business, but having this same scenario more than a year after the initial lockdown is something no one expected. And while I like to embrace the new and find a way to deal with challenges, I realise that this is not that easy.
Right about this time last year, we tried changing a sit-down restaurant into a delivery venture. We adapted our offering, prepared home-style meals and pizzas, tried to over-deliver and be creative and appealing and still – it was not a winning recipe. Perhaps the model works better for restaurants in-town, having to deliver from a farm restaurant has even more challenges, but I have seen even the most creative and energetic struggle.
Chris Erasmus was our first chef when we opened a restaurant at La Motte. He took us to an Eat Out Top 10 spot and infused everyone around him with his passion for food. He moved on to open his own restaurant in Franschhoek and quickly took a leading role in the local culinary scene. When Covid arrived, he was one of the driving forces, mobilising the community to look after its own. Energetic and optimistic and always ready to make a new plan, even he had to close his doors. There are many others even though the stories are not the same. I am sure Chris has many a new card up his sleeve and a bright future ahead, but I use this example to show the extent of the challenge.
Restaurants having to close down affect many more than the chef. All levels of employment – from cleaners to sous chefs to waiters to the drivers getting everyone to work. And then there is the supply chain – the butcheries, bakeries, gardeners and cheese makers, the wine cellars… With a focus on supporting local, many small industries have developed in rural towns – micro herbs, charcuterie, olive oils, spices… they are all left without a market.
In my blog Why Wine Matters, I tried to explain a similar principle. “The wine industry understands its responsibility towards conscious consumption and upliftment of its communities, but when an industry is suffering, even these responsibilities might become challenging. While we all have to work together to combat the pandemic, we also have to keep our industries alive to ensure long term sustainability.”
A blanket approach in a diverse environment is a big challenge. I’m not questioning fairness and equality, but is there not a difference between drinking in a crowded pub or ordering your drink of choice online and enjoying it at home? Could you argue the same when it comes to the style of restaurant? I do understand, however, that similar to the closing of the beaches, it is more about keeping people at home than keeping them away from beaches or out of restaurants. We are all worried about our health and the wellness of our loved ones, so we have to find a new way to support our restaurants.
There are initiatives to do just that. Remember when many of us tipped more than generously to help waiters? Seems it is picking up momentum again with generous customers doing their bit to support waiters helping with takeaways (read tweet). Also join the community of a wonderfully interactive Facebook page Restaurant 911, where restaurants share their menus and initiatives. There has been worldwide efforts to help (read more), but if you want to make a contribution to the struggling local industry, keep an eye on restaurant initiatives, order your takeaway, be generous when you tip, or try and get involved through one of these official platforms: