The new Level 3 restrictions, which include another temporary alcohol ban and a curfew that limits the trading hours of restaurants to 8pm, came as another kick in the teeth of our beleaguered restaurant and wine industries.
“We have effectively lost our three busiest weeks of the season,” says Brennan Davies of The Wine Glass. “The impact of the restrictions is colossal, as we were banking on this holiday season to recoup at least some of the losses we incurred during the earlier lockdowns last year.”
With the absence of international tourists and ‘swallows’, the closure of our beaches and other Level 3 restrictions that were imposed by Pres Cyril Ramaphosa on 28 December, restaurateurs in Hermanus confirmed that it was not the season they had hoped for and that they were currently operating in “survival mode”.
While most establishments had stocked up on wine and liquor for the summer season which they are now unable to sell, they also had to purchase additional supplies of non-alcoholic drinks for their customers. The restaurants that have been the hardest hit are those that rely heavily on dinner trade and would normally have two evening sittings. By having to close at 8pm, they are losing a lot of trade at a time they can least afford it.
More than one restaurant owner said that customers still try their luck by asking for alcohol or sneaking in their own, but that they are not prepared to take any chances. “We can’t risk losing our liquor licences now,” says Petri Hendriksz of Char’d and Pear Tree.
In general, though, customers have been willing to try the restaurants’ offering of non-alcoholic wines, beers and mocktails. And, as Fabio Lenci of Dal-Italia and Fabio’s Ristorante says, “people go out to a restaurant to eat, not to drink”. Nevertheless, the restrictions all but killed the holiday night vibe in Hermanus, and had an equally devastating impact on restaurants’ revenue.
The current restrictions will be in force until 15 January and the uncertainty around what will happen after that makes it impossible to plan ahead, says Petri. “We are just taking it one day at a time and trying to remain positive – this pandemic won’t last forever.”
Apart from running two restaurants, this intrepid chef/restaurateur is also currently in negotiations to take over the Food Alley which he plans on turning into a wine and tapas bar. His optimism in the future of Hermanus in these challenging times is indeed heartening. “Sometimes you just have to grab your balls and jump!” he laughs.
Shane Sauvage of La Pentola and Rudolf van der Berg of Burgundy remain equally optimistic. “While it was not the busiest of seasons, we were pumping compared to, say, April last year,” says Shane. “We all pulled together and participated in community initiatives to welcome visitors to Hermanus. We must be grateful that the domestic tourists did come, and their love for Hermanus is reassuring. The rest is out of our hands.”
Rudolf says although many holidaymakers left town over this past weekend to return to work, Burgundy is still doing good trade during the day and is especially busy over weekends. “It’s all about creating a positive vibe and making the best of a challenging situation,” he says. Many restaurateurs are worried about the coming months, however, and even Rudolf admits that “we have eight May months lying ahead of us that we have to get through”.
“Now is the time we need to prepare for the quiet winter months, and we are going to need help to get there,” says Anton Verhoogt of Fisherman’s Cottage. “Hopefully the landlords will be willing to renegotiate because we can’t just all close our doors.” Brennan agrees that the government needs to do more to support businesses. “You can’t just shut down an industry without offering any relief. We still need to pay our bills and look after our staff.”
Carolyn Martin of Creation Wines, whose tasting room is now closed for two weeks, says the government is clearly not coping with this second wave of Coronavirus infections and that the private sector will have to work together to mitigate this crisis.
“While these regulations are economically devastating, I completely understand why it was necessary to relieve the pressure on our health-care system. We should now focus on creating public-private partnerships to ensure that business owners and their staff get vaccinated as soon as possible. Our medical facilities are clearly in a dire situation and have their hands full caring for seriously ill patients, and we cannot rely on them to divert resources to large-scale vaccination.”
One thing is clear: while a second wave of infections was always expected, it struck sooner than anticipated and is spreading faster than the original variant. As locals we have to take all the necessary precautions to stay safe while supporting our local restaurant industry as best we can. As Shane says, “Just think of all the great specials that will be on offer in the coming weeks!”