It’s been a tough year for everyone with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, but the restaurant industry has been one of the worst affected. The lockdown and social distancing measures instituted by governments, resulted in restaurants worldwide scrambling to make changes to their operations. But, as the lockdown in South Africa eases, we have to commend the resilience of our restaurant owners and staff who have managed to carry on despite difficult circumstances.

Resilient spirit and innovation

During a virtual conference that took place recently, Tom Bené of the National Restaurant Association in the United States, said that restaurants are facing unprecedented challenges amid the coronavirus pandemic, but new technologies and the resilient spirit that has always been at the industry’s core will help it bounce back.

“I’d say the biggest differentiator we see in the industry right now is…format type,” Bené noted. He added that restaurants that already had a robust takeout, delivery or drive-thru business are faring better than those that are scrambling to figure out off-premises sales for the first time.

Local restaurants profoundly affected

The effects of the pandemic and lockdown on the local restaurant industry have been severe. Many restaurants have had to close their doors and those that have been able to continue have had to adapt to new ways of serving their clientele. Innovation and resilience have been vital for restaurants to survive this crisis since relief offered by government agencies was quickly overwhelmed by the needs of local businesses. A few of the ways restaurants showed their adaptability include:

  • Many restaurants who had to run on reduced staff streamlined their menus to increase efficiency.
  • When it became possible, many restaurants changed over to takeout and delivery operations. Although this did allow restaurants to continue to operate, it also affected profits because of third-party delivery fees.
  • Some restaurants used innovative methods to retain business such as making produce boxes or preparing menu items as frozen meals.
  • Restaurant owners and employees drew attention to the effects of the lockdown on social media using the #JobSaveLives.

Still, the impact on industry earnings by year’s end will certainly run into billions of rands. Not to mention the many foodservice industry employees who were laid off or furloughed.

How Pilot helped

As a Point of Sale software provider for the restaurant industry, the crisis had a major impact on us but from the beginning our focus was on continuing to do the best for our clients.

  • We immediately started negotiating dormancy of licensing terms, deferred licensing payments through payment holidays and in more severe cases, managing immediate closures at sites.
  • We didn’t enforce settlement penalties, arrears claims and system shutdowns.
  • We paused all licence fee increases due in April to afford its users the opportunity to catch their breath commercially during and after lockdown.
  • We didn’t apply cancellation penalties to sites that needed to scale back operations, and which were renting equipment and services from us. But we allowed clients to forgo the 90-day notice period if they wanted to return some or all of the equipment.
  • When the lockdown was relaxed to Level 4, we made the decision to only invoice licence fees to those sites that resumed trading. We decided to suspend payments for an agreed period while sites were closed during the initial lockdown and we only invoiced sites that resumed trading for licence fees.

It has been a challenging time for the restaurant industry. But with the resilience and adaptability that restaurants have shown, we have no doubt the industry will come back stronger than ever and will continue to be an important part of the South African economy and culture.

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Author : Rudi Badenhorst