Tracy Lee Stark

By Tracy Lee Stark

Photographer and Multimedia Producer

How can restaurants possibly still survive?

Restaurants and restaurant owners re-invent themselves as they try to stay afloat.

When restaurants resumed trade on June 26, 2020, it wasn’t business as usual.

Restrictions have been put in place by Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane that restaurants will only operate at less than their normal 50% capacity, with customers forced to be seated at least 1.5 meters apart.

This means less business.

Alcohol sales for seated patrons are also still not allowed under the advanced level 3 lockdown, which has left some restaurants having to come up with different ways to ensure survival, to make up for the shortfall.

Restaurant owner, Antonie de Ras from the Richmond Studio Café, a popular coffee shop in Melville, Johannesburg said he decided to totally close the inside area of his restaurant.

“All tables have been moved outside onto a sunny deck, where patrons can still enjoy a full menu offering as well as coffees and other beverages.”

To make sure his restaurant is able to continue to operate, he had remodelled the inside of his café into a professional portrait studio.

De Ras, a former photojournalist and award-winning portrait photographer will now offer studio portrait sessions where once he had tables for eat-in customers.

A popular pizza restaurant chain, Col’Cacchio have also reinvented themselves to ensure that they keep our loyal customers happy. They created the ‘Heat & Eat’ range so that customers could still enjoy a slice of Col’Cacchio pizza in a way that would be most convenient in these changing times.

“You can expect the same iconic flavours from our Col’Cacchio menu and we are thrilled to be partnering with the innovative brand to bring this amazing range to homes across the Western Cape and soon to roll out across SA”, explains Kinga Baranowska, Col’Cacchio MD and co-founder.

Emily Dyer-Schiefer from the Kitchen Think, a creative and operations restaurant hospitality consultancy says restaurants need to be creative right now and focus heavily on customer experience and relationships. She says the restaurant industry has been needing a change for a while, except people thought that change might be over 10 years. It suddenly had to happen overnight.

Restaurants that have been relying on alcohol sales and walk-ins will see an impact. Restaurants and food business owners who were already embracing customer experience, social media, delivery and customer relationships will probably be able to see it through to the other side.

She adds that “owners need to recognise that restaurants aren’t about food. They also aren’t about alcohol. Restaurants are about the entire experience and the connection between customer and service.”

Some restaurants have started offering meal boxes, five-star delivery meals and bottled cocktails. The ones that have done well are the places that were already leveraging social channels to connect to their customers.

Dyer-Schiefer says restaurants need to ask the fundamental question of how one can make socially distant eating fun and vibey?

One of her clients has made the move from sit-down restaurant and bar to take away coffees with bakery and grocery and it is working out better than expected.

Customers need to understand that restaurants have to adapt and that they need to be open to the new experience. Customers need to know that the restaurant isn’t asking you to sanitise and wear a mask to be difficult, they have to stay open. Dyer-Schiefer adds that supporting your favourite spots in their new ventures is important for the industry to stay alive.

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