The restaurant industry of South Africa has called on government to fast-track the vaccine roll-out for their staff. The industry was responding to amended lockdown regulations announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday night.

Restaurants are now allowed to operate, but the sale of alcohol at their outlets remains prohibited. The industry says without being able to operate at full capacity, more jobs will be lost.

With the updated lockdown regulations, restaurants may not accommodate more than 50 people at a time. For smaller venues, restaurants may not exceed 50% of their normal capacity. President Ramaphosa said that strict protocols must be implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at eateries.

Wendy Alberts is the CEO of Restaurant Association of South Africa (RASA). Since the lockdown was implemented in March 2020, the hospitality industry has been one of the worst affected, with thousand of jobs having been shed. She says the president has not understood what the industry needs to save jobs.

“We are not food trailers. We are sophisticated businesses with overheads. We simply cannot pay our bills with the limited seating capacity that is being awarded to us. There has been absolutely no compensation and they want to keep our businesses closed, they need to compensate us on the back end. What we have called for is scientific evidence that outlines the comparative between a pharmacy, a retail store, a supermarket and a restaurant. We also need to separate the conversation between alcohol and transmission. Are we high risk area’s of transmission and if we are, give us the evidence. Expedite the vaccine for the frontline staff so that we can trade or businesses and not vulnerable and out under threat,” she says.

Restaurant owners say with each tough lockdown – keeping their businesses open becomes more challenging. Owner of the Rocket Lifestyle Group in Johannesburg, Sean Barber, says four of his restaurants have faced closure due to accumulating debt.

“It’s been pretty devastating. Rocket’s businesses range from three different types of sectors. The first is takeaway, fast food. Those are stationed in the business districts, where we require high corporate foot fall. Obviously since March 2020, there hasn’t been the corporate footfall. Those four shops have had to close. The 9pm curfew means closing the shop at 8 and kitchen at 7:30. It really effects us massively. Every single time we get locked down, it gets harder to come out of it. When you trading after a lockdown, you busy servicing retrospective debt that you incurred during that lockdown. Cash reserves are depleted,” explains Barber.

While the hospitality sector welcomed the re-opening of the restaurant sector – the Federation Hospitality Association of Southern Africa (FEDHASA) says many restaurants may close for good.

FEDHASA national chairperson, Rosemary Anderson, says the industry has suffered massive unemployment that they will probably never recover from.

“At FEDHASA, we are grateful that our president announced that restaurants are allowed to open. However there is confusion in the latest gazette in that it has dropped the wording regarding indoor and outdoor numbers allowed and only refers to indoor. We request clarification in this regard. As much as we are grateful that restaurants are allowed to open, we are also cognisant that many restaurants will not be financially viable for them to open as they cannot serve alcohol. We also request the TERS fund,” Anderson pleads.

Businesses in tourism sector and restaurants crumbling under level 4 lockdown: