Restaurant owners and their staff members are waiting with bated breath for detailed guidelines from the government on when and how they will be able to reopen.

This following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement last week that not only sit-down restaurants, but also casinos, cinemas and theatres, accredited and licensed accommodation (with the specific exception of “home-sharing accommodation like Airbnb”), conferences and meetings for business purposes (with limitations on the number of people), personal care services and non-contact sports will now be allowed to resume.

At the time of going to print on Monday afternoon, however, these businesses were still waiting for clarity and the only regulations that had been gazetted were those pertaining to personal care services.

Several local restaurateurs said the announcement had been so vague that they were unsure about how to plan for reopening. Some of the uncertainties included the issue of social distancing. “Will spacing tables 1.5m apart be adequate or do we need to put up partitions between tables?” was one of Anton Verhoogt of Fisherman’s Cottage’s questions.

“Will there be a limit on the number of diners and staff allowed on the premises at any one time, as was the case in the weeks preceding the lockdown?” was another question from Henri Grové from Fusion. And could the magic number of 50 apply again, as in the case of places of worship, regardless of the size of the venue?

“The government is in control and we have no other option but to wait and see,” was the philosophical attitude of Shane Sauvage of La Pentola. For him, the issue of alcohol is an important one, as a large percentage of restaurants’ income is derived from liquor sales. “If we can only serve wine with meals at certain hours on certain days, then that’s a problem,” said Shane, for whom home deliveries and take-aways were not a solution.

“That’s just not what we do,” he said. “With take-out you can’t guarantee a warm plate of quality food. I want people to come here and relax, to experience our brand of hospitality and fine dining with premium wines while enjoying the view.”

Several restaurateurs have expressed concern that if they are not allowed to serve wine, many customers might prefer enjoying their meal at home with a bottle of wine they bought at the liquor store. Among the many challenges they are facing, this could be a make-or-break factor for an industry that has been dealt a devastating blow.

Local chefs and restaurateurs are all hoping for good news soon. “These are dark times and the industry is really in trouble,” said Shane. “In all my 34 years in hospitality I’ve never experienced anything as bad as this.”

Small Business Development Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni has reportedly said that the decision to open sit-down restaurants again after nearly three months of lockdown, was necessitated by a lack of relief funds to support businesses in the sector.

The Restaurant Association of South Africa (RASA) estimates that restaurants employ around 800 000 people in South Africa. In an interview with 702 last week, RASA CEO Wendy Alberts said that restaurants had been decimated, with these employees being some of the hardest hit in South Africa.

“Our industry is long past crippled and we have been calling out to the government for a very long time,” she said, adding that staff and food hygiene are already common-place in the industry, so it would be relatively easy to adapt for the Coronavirus.

All that is now desperately needed is for the protocols and guidelines to be announced before more businesses are forced to close their doors. And I’m sure there are many foodies out there ready to get out and support our local restaurants!

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