June 10, 2020

Sit Down Restaurants Ready to Open in Level 3 – 1 June 2020

The sit-down restaurant industry of South Africa, consisting of more than 13 000 establishments and employing 500 000 people, from Soweto to Cape Town, comprises quality food establishments that form the heart of SA’s tourism sector. We have a plan.  We are ready to open. We have complete protocols and supporting training and auditing tools.

Definition: A “sit-down restaurant” refers to a casual-dining restaurant with table service rather than a fast food outlet or diner; the business model is entirely different.

Sit-down restaurants operate with very high costs, narrow margins and high debt levels and, most importantly, rely on a minimum turnover to service these costs and debt. The lockdown restrictions have resulted in massive trading losses and a complete standstill in income for restaurants, placing most – if not all – sit-down restaurants in a precarious financial position.  

The Ecosystem

While the sit-down restaurant industry may be seen as a low contributor to the general economy, this view fails to factor in the massive ecosystem it supports and the entrepreneurial nature of the businesses, including suppliers like small farmers, wholesalers and SMMEs to shopfitters, pest control, plumbers and electricians. Not to be overlooked is the value of sit-down restaurants to the mall environment and their contribution to the success of these venues.

More long-term, the value of the restaurant industry to the broader tourism sector must be taken into consideration if SA wants to return to a vibrant tourism destination without which we lose substantial foreign currency.

Take-Away and Delivery are not sustainable

A typical sit-down restaurant that opens for delivery and take-away only, and with the reduced staff and costs to match activity, is only able to break-even once it achieves about one-third of the sales turnover that it would normally achieve with full sit-down allowed. The reason for this is that delivery and takeaway is an expensive channel to service with the extra packaging costs and delivery fees incurred.

In order to break even, a typical sit-down restaurant must achieve sales well above the turnover that delivery and take-away can generate. At less than 70% of sit-down capacity utilised it is not likely that break-even sales can be achieved.

The continued closure of restaurants is likely to result in the demise of the greater independent restaurant industry in South Africa, with a knock-on effect on employees, landlords and ultimately the entire tourism sector.

New data shows restaurants are safe

We were initially judged to have one of the highest potentials for risk of transmission, but the facts have changed since the start of lockdown in March 2020 and globally restaurants have very successfully introduced international best practices with protocols that enforce social distancing, the wearing of PPEs, twice-daily temperature checks and customer registers.


Government strategy needs to be re-visited in light of both above and below developments:

Free operations protocol based on global best practice guided by WHO

The Restaurant Collective has produced a COVID-19 safe restaurant operations protocol which was submitted and approved by the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) and has been made freely available to all who need it.

Free training workshops based on global best practice

Alongside these checklists and protocols, we have established free online training on these protocols for all restaurant staff.

These training workshops are operated by a team of internationally accredited education and training experts. We are able to train up to 1000 restaurant owners/managers per week in this way and this will continue after COVID-19 as we embark on a long-term project to upskill the industry.

Free Hotline for concerns

In addition, TBCSA is implementing a self-regulatory reporting mechanism for the entire tourism/restaurant industry. The Restaurant Collective is also making a help-line available for restaurant owners/managers who need support around COVID-safe practices. On average, in Winter, about 150 people visit a sit-down restaurant during an eight hour trading period; this translates to six tables or at its busiest 15 – 20 tables in a 150 square meter area. Our restaurants are considerably safer and less congested than public transport or standing in supermarket queues. We are responsible and organised and willing