Million Seats on the Streets protest: Is restaurant industry preparing for its last supper?

Protesters rally in Melville for the 1 Million Seats in the Street protest to bring the spotlight to restaurants' plight, 22 July 2020. Image: Nigel Sibanda

Restaurants around the country partook in the 1 Million Seats protest… but will it do any good?

Restaurants accross the country have taken to the streets for #millionseatsonthestreets protest, despite police calling for the protest to be called off, to bring attention to the plight of their industry due to Covid-19-related lockdown regulations.

A total of 112 days have passed since the beginning of lockdown, battering various industries, with restaurants being among the hardest as the industry straddles an alcohol ban and newly imposed curfew.

Organised by the Restaurant Association of SA (RASA) the protest saw restaurant owners and workers blocking roads with tables and chairs. Job losses, lack of income and the obvious lack of patrons are just some of the issues they wanted to highlight.

Hundreds of protesters gathered all over South Africa, including Parkhurst and Melville in Johannesburg, while areas such as Constantia and Cape Town’s CBD also saw restauranteurs taking to the streets to protest.

According to the CEO of RASA Wendy Alberts, The Minister of Tourism has agreed to meet with the association where businessman Vusi Thembekwayo will address the minister to hand over a memorandum from RASA, the Taverners Association, and the Independent Liquor Association.

The Citizen spoke to well-known eateries about the impact that lockdown has had on their once thriving industry.

Impact:

Says Mark Goldberg, owner of Tei Avon Schwarma Bistro, in Greenside: “So, we are one of the thousands of restaurants who have been severely impacted by not only Covid-19, but more so by the actions of our government. Fear-mongering regarding eating out and especially at restaurants has had more of a detrimental impact on our business than the disease itself. This is not sustainable and we will be forced to reduce our overhead if this does not turn around quickly.”

Adds LeBrun Rossouw, owner of The Jolly Roger in Parkhurst: “The effect of the lockdown has been devastating. For April we did zero turnover, and in May and June we could do take-away pizzas, but it is almost not worth the effort.

“The protest action may help but I doubt it. Without alcohol sales the industry is doomed to failure. Patrons go to restaurants and pubs for the experience and not necessarily just for the food…

“Unless the restrictions are lifted there is a high probability that we will go out of business. Our business was established in October 1993.”

 

No government support

While we haven’t made any retrenchments as of yet, we haven’t been in a position to bring everyone back and we are currently working with small teams. When the situation improves, we hope to be able to offer everyone their jobs back.” said Natasha Sideris – Founder, tashas.

“It would be extremely helpful to have the extra income. For those that are reliant, the liquor ban has been devastating and it needs to be addressed. That said, running fewer hours obviously impacts our income.”

Although the famous eatery will not be actively participating, Sideris says they do support the sentiment of the peaceful protest. “At this stage, Tashas has received no financial assistance from the government or insurers. This needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency so that the industry has support to get back on its feet.”

Uber Eats and other delivery services:

The Rock in the trending Fourways spot Design Quarters. According to its owner, Soron Pecelj, delivery services such as Uber Eats takes about 30% of the bill in commission and Mr D takes about 22.5%. “

It is a lot but what can you do, we all trying to survive. People are slowing coming to have sit-downs. “

The curfew and the re-ban on alcohol have not helped restaurants. “Restaurants are an experience, it’s just not about the food, people come to drink wine or any alcohol to relieve their stress from a long day and enjoy themselves. The curfew doesn’t help our business because we have to tell people to leave before 9pm,” Pecelj said.

A scene in Melville where local restaurant staff took part in the 1 Million Seats on the Streets protest, 22 July 2020. Picture: Nigel Sibanda

He added that he wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of the president but said the regulations are not helping them: “If there needs to be curfew make it after 10pm, have alcohol sold the whole week, not just a few days.”

Job losses:

The Fat Zebra is a popular spot in Linden, and manager Piet Snyman said they had to cut down on their capacity because of the regulations.

“We are operating at much less capacity. We have managed to keep all our staff thankfully.” He agreed with Pecelji that the regulations need to make sense. “Alcohol is a huge profit factor for many restaurants, re-banning it has really hampered us especially when it was not allowed to be sold. The regulations from 9-5pm, Monday to Thursday were not helpful, few people drink during the daytime and people can’t drink on the weekend.”

Mike Said, considered an industry leader and veteran, is extremely vocal about the restaurant industry with which he’s been involved with for 27 years.

“ The initiative is called A Million Seats. We want to show how many jobs in the restaurant industry are on the line. This is one of the few industries in SA that needs no matric and offers first jobs to many young people, and teaches skills without requiring a degree. Hundreds of jobs are on the line.

“What we are asking is the government to consider at least dropping one of these factors, which would make trading easier. Perhaps that would quell the fear that people have about going to a restaurant.

“The ultimate goal would be to ask the government to consider relaxing everything because what’s taking place isn’t sustainable. If that isn’t possible, it would assist if restaurant owners and employees would get the TERS money they applied for and not be given the run-around, many employees can’t get UIF because they’ve been told restaurant services have resumed. Yet restaurants can’t operate at full capacity.”

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