“I think people are going to give up” – Grace Harding on the hospitality industry

Grace Harding is the founder and CEO of popular seafood restaurant chain Ocean Basket. As a restauranteur, Harding is actively involved in helping and assisting those in the industry. Plagued by Covid-19 and the resultant lockdowns, Grace joined the BizNews Power Hour to discuss the effects the latest Level 4 restrictions are having on the struggling hospitality industry, and restaurants in particular. – Jarryd Neves

Grace Harding on how the lockdown restrictions are affecting the hospitality industry:

I think a lot are going to give up. I had a chat to a few independent restauranteurs and the level of depression is absolutely hectic. It’s tough enough owning a restaurant with all the other difficulties like crime and all sorts of other nonsense. It’s really hectic at the moment. As we’ve been saying for a long time, it impacts such a huge value chain and our crew because there is no TERS.

On the challenged faced in the restaurant industry:

I would say over the last 12-13 years, the return on investment on a restaurant has definitely reduced. It is still an industry that attracts the crazy ones – the chefs, the entrepreneurs, the mad ones – and it’s still an industry that’s relevant. People are not going to stop wanting to be together. I read some McKinsey International research a while ago and they asked people, “when you’re allowed out, what are the things you’re going to want to do?”

Number two on the list was go to a restaurant. Number one was visit friends and family. The restaurant model and business is relevant. It’s much tougher to run. The challenges are huge, people are completely exhausted – and there’s still people opening. One restaurant will close and within days you will see another one open. I think we also suckers for punishment. But the independents, they really have a tough time. Franchisees – although they are semi-entrepreneurs – have the support of a franchise.

On getting the industry going again:

When we got going again after the knock in December, the restaurants definitely started to breathe. Did they get to fantastic numbers? No, because the consumer is still afraid and many people have been retrenched. We’re getting knocked from every angle. There’s nowhere we can turn without getting a slap. If it opens up, we will start to breathe – even if they allow us to open without liquor for a while. But to just lump us with a generic term of restaurant and shut us down, it’s not only the impact of today, it’s the long-term impact – deeper in debt with a landlord and the bank, staff who are now going to be more demoralised. Will we come back? I think if we don’t have another lockdown, it’ll take probably around two years.

Her message to Cyril Ramaphosa:

The message is twofold. Firstly, we can’t imagine how you feel. It must be terrifying to see the deaths, illness and the lack of oxygen supply. You’re caught between a rock and a hard place because some horrible people took all our money away. I’d like to acknowledge that. The second thing is to say, please don’t lump us all together. A restaurant, coffee shop, Mugg & Bean, Tasha’s, Spur or Ocean Basket – people walk in, they know each other, they sit together, they eat and they go.

They’re not roaming around or falling about. They’re not slurring on each other. What Covid has taught us is that work needs to be done to show that a sit down restaurant is different, has different needs and has different challenges. The costing model is so much greater – the rent, for example. Perhaps a take away could bounce back a little easier. But a sit down restaurant? It’s really difficult. Please, you can’t shut us down. It’s not going to work.

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