Hospitality industry feeling the pain

Boards outside of Tables at Nitida and Cassia

A prominent Durbanville restaurant owner has warned of further job losses and the possible closure of his business if the government doesn’t ease Covid-19 lockdown restrictions on the hospitality industry.

Warren Swaffield, owner of Cassia Restaurant and Tables at Nitida in Durbanville, said their business had been suffering since President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a state of disaster on March 15. 

“We have been severely impacted financially since March 15 when the government first announced the restrictions on how we were permitted to trade. From March 15 till March 26, we lost 75% of our normal business, due to restricted numbers, curfew and limited alcohol sales. From March 27 till May 15 we had zero turnover, forcing us to start home deliveries and collections and this allowed us to generate R30 000 revenue for the month of May, a massive difference from the turnover of R1.6 million that we earned over the same period last year. In June, we scraped R60 000 together as opposed to R1.4 million in June 2019.”

Meanwhile, two MECs and the mayor of Cape Town have condemned the police’s use of stun grenades and a water cannon to disperse a peaceful protest by hospitality workers.

Restaurant employees, owners and others in the hospitality industry gathered in a human chain-like protest, under the slogan #JobsSaveLives and #ServeUsPlease, in the city centre on Friday.

The police told the demonstrators to disperse, saying they didn’t have a right to protest then used water cannons and stun grenades on them.

Community Safety MEC Albert Fritz,  Finance and Economic Opportunities MEC David Maynier and mayor Dan Plato say the police’s response was unwarranted given the reportedly peaceful nature of the protest.

“It is absurd,” Mr Plato said, “that SAPS and the SANDF are not able to fully mobilise enough resources to respond adequately to violent protests in areas which are experiencing looting, public violence, land invasions, destruction of property and barricading of roads, and yet they are able to mobilise water cannons and stun grenades at the drop of a hat to disperse peaceful protests.”

Mr Maynier said tourism and hospitality businesses were bleeding jobs and closing because of Covid-19 but instead of getting a “constructive and common-sense” response they had been met with “flip flopping, uncertainty and an unnecessary use of violence in response to a peaceful protest”.

He added: “These businesses can open safely and they should be allowed to do so.”

Mr Plato urged President Cyril Ramaphosa to heed what he said were the hospitality and tourism sectors’ legitimate concerns.

 “Various sensible proposals have been made by the representative bodies for these industries, and national government can no longer ignore their plight. It is unacceptable that a peaceful protest by business owners and employees fearing for the loss of their livelihoods is met with water cannons and stun grenades.”

Randolf Jorberg, owner of the Beerhouse Group with restaurants in the Cape Town CBD, Tygervalley and Pretoria, said that since the start of lockdown they had been lucky to make 20% of their normal turnover. “On average we have had R38 000 turnover, which is 28 times less of our normal average of close to R1.1 million a month. Most restaurants have to deal with 10% of their money going towards rental, and that is something we also have to deal with. During lockdown I still had a monthly electricity bill of R20 000 to pay.”

Both Mr Swaffield and Mr Jorberg said things had improved from Monday July 1 when people had been able to sit down at restaurants but the alcohol ban was still hurting them.

“In July, with the lifting of the lockdown to level 3 but still not being able to sell alcohol, we are looking at a turnover of R300 000 as opposed to the R1.5 million from last year,” Mr Swaffield said: The turnover we have experienced during lockdown has not been sustainable, and we face further job losses and possible closure.”

Over the last month, 24 of the 60 staff at Cassia and Tables at Nitida have been retrenched while Mr Jorberg said he had to let 102 people go during lockdown.

Mr Jorberg said: “Alcohol sales normally make up 40% of a restaurant’s turnover, but for us, it accounts for 80% so we have been badly affected by the ban on alcohol. In July things looked like it will get better and we were expecting a rule to be made that will allow us to trade alcohol again but then we were hit with another ban. In countries all over the world, governments are helping restaurants in various ways, like financial support or just allowing close to regular service, but in South Africa, the government is hostile towards us. 

“They have allowed taxis to operate at 100%, but we have to deal with ridiculous curfews and restrictions. I mean people eat supper at 7pm, but we have to make sure that we are home by 9pm so there is no way that we can serve them. Most restaurants and hotels in Cape Town operate on world standard guidelines and regulations, that makes us more than capable of operating and still abiding to social distancing rules and keeping our customers safe.”

Mr Swaffield said his staff would continue to protest for the reopening of their restaurant. “We need to save livelihoods, the government asked us for time to prepare for what was coming, we did just that and they are still not organised. We are now paying the price for their incompetence and failure to deliver. Corruption, inefficiency and no accountability have put this country and its citizens on the brink of an economic disaster!”