And suddenly, the restaurant industry as we knew it was done, its employees adrift and it’s future uncertain. Although the news was ominous and getting scarier by the hour, and although it was becoming increasingly clear that the corona virus would seriously impact the restaurant industry, the speed at which that happened came as a shock. The reality of a prolonged shutdown, will mean the end of many restaurants and bars. The longer they’re closed, the more they simply won’t come back. People’s livelihoods and dreams, the communities they’ve created, the sweat and hard work and success they’ve achieved — that will all disappear. The hospitality industry does not offer its workers much in the way of stability. Most people in the industry live paycheck to paycheck, and don’t have any benefits. Adequate health insurance and other benefits are hardly a given. And in this time, for many of them, unfortunately, its no work – no pay.
On March 15, President Cyril Ramaphosa issued a mandate that required restaurants to cut their seating capacity to no more than 50 people as a preventive measure. Forcing businesses to go the take out and delivery route. But this didn’t last long, as the national lockdown was only days away.
On March 16, co-owner and well-known chef David Higgs decided to close ‘Marble’ and ‘Saint’ in Johannesburg, due to the large portion of international travelers walking through the doors. His comment was that the sooner we get this under control, the sooner we can go back to business. His staff’s safety, his first priority.
On March 20, South African hotel operator Tsogo Sun decided to close up to 36 hotels due to a total collapse of demand. This came after travel bans were imposed by various countries to contain the corona virus. The owner of the Southern Sun hotels said the hotel closures will affect 7,700 rooms, or 40% of the group’s hotel portfolio.
And then, March 27, almost 57 million South Africans on lockdown.
Restaurants are crying out for help. They aren’t built to weather storms like this. It doesn’t matter if a restaurant has been open 22 years or 22 days. Revenue one week pays the bills the week before. And even once the restaurant shutdown is over, there’s no guarantee that business will be good. People may still be scared, and many will be suffering from loss of income and jobs. There are still bills and rent to pay.
It is about saving the people who work so hard to make everyone’s lives better, in an industry without the basic protections that many of us take for granted. Without them, we’ll all be lost.