- In an address on Monday, Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa allowed restaurants to continue operating on the condition that they provide only take-aways and deliveries.
- Zimbabwe has been under Level 4 Covid-19 lockdown measures since 5 January following a spike in infections and deaths, and as of 1 March, Zimbabwe had recorded 36 115 cases and 1 468 deaths.
- The Restaurant Operators' Association of Zimbabwe says the status of the industry has created a massive problem and up to half of existing operations are on the brink of permanent closure.
Zimbabwe might have eased back from the bulk of the Covid-19-induced restrictions that were imposed at the start of the year, but the prescribed operating conditions for restaurants will leave half of the sector on the brink of closure - for good - according to the industry.
The southern African country has been under Level 4 Covid-19 lockdown measures since 5 January following a spike in infections and deaths.
As of 1 March, Zimbabwe had recorded 36 115 cases and 1 468 deaths.
But with the number of cases, hospitalisations and fatalities having significantly dropped since, the economy has been opened with most businesses allowed to operate - with the exception of bars, beerhalls, nightclubs and gyms.
In an address on Monday, Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa allowed restaurants to continue operating on the condition that they only provide take-aways and deliveries and not allow sit-down dining.
Operators, however, feel that partial operations - with no end to the Covid-19 crisis in sight - will leave the bulk of them teetering on the brink of collapse. Players in the sector say they are at a crossroads and if urgent attention is not given, the situation will spell disaster for the restaurant trade and many of its suppliers.
Thousands of jobs lost
Since the initial lockdown of March 2020, it is estimated that up to 100 restaurants have not reopened, having not been able to survive the initial closure and the subsequent partial operation phases. It is estimated that as many as 2 000 jobs have been lost in that time.
In a press statement on Tuesday, Restaurant Operators' Association of Zimbabwe (ROAZ) president Bongai Zamchiya said the non-operational or partial-operational status of restaurants since March last year has created a massive problem for the trade, and up to half of existing operations are on the brink of permanent closure.
As at the end of February 2021, ROAZ estimates that short-term prospects for restaurants are bleak unless operational capacity is restored. Up to 50% of operations - employing up to 4 500 to 5 500 people - will be closed permanently, it estimates.
Zamchiya said players in the sector had hoped for reopening of restaurants with permission for half-capacity service for sit-down meals, but with restrictions still placed on sit-down dining, restaurant trade is no longer tenable.
"We are fully supportive of the national effort to contain and eliminate Covid-19, but the current dispensation for the restaurant trade is no longer tenable and we face a huge level of business closures and job losses, not only in the restaurant trade, but among the many suppliers to the trade," said Zamchiya.
According to Zamchiya, the sector had not received any financial relief despite mounting costs, including paying full licence fees.
"In fact, most restaurants are faced with full costs related to rentals, wages and other inputs, but we have no income, while those that are able to do takeaways report income of between 8% and 20% of pre-lockdown levels," he said.
Zamchiya said restaurants are key operators in the tourism space, which is a significant economic sector and traditionally earns $1 billion in foreign currency." He said restaurants around the country varied in size from small stand-alone operations to large corporate operations. It is conservatively estimated that Zimbabwe has between 700 and 850 restaurants.
According to ROAZ, as at March 2020, the number of employees in the trade was between 9 500 and 11 000, with a further 2 500 contract workers gaining regular work during periods of high demand, such as December, and for many, this is the only source of income.
While some people considered restaurants a luxury, they were in fact essential operations for many working or disabled people and an important part of business and social life in the community at large, Zamchiya said. Making a case for operators, Zamchiya said during the second half of 2020, when they operated with limited sit-ins, restaurants had shown that safe and secure dining is possible and easy to achieve. Zamchiya also highlighted that suppliers from farming through to manufacturing will also feel the impact of the partial operations.
To save the sector, restaurant operators are calling for immediate reopening of restaurants, phased from an initial 50% capacity leading to full capacity over time.