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Impatient customers cancel orders but optimism as restaurants reopen after lockdown

Food outlets say there have been several challenges as they re-opened their businesses amid the coronavirus lockdown.
Food outlets say there have been several challenges as they re-opened their businesses amid the coronavirus lockdown.
Image: Andisiwe May

It has not been smooth sailing for several food outlets that have reopened their doors for business after an easing of the coronavirus lockdown regulations.

Several companies that SowetanLIVE's sister publication TimesLIVE spoke to said among the challenges was impatient customers who at times cancelled their orders due to dissatisfaction with the service they were receiving.

Needmore Chipundo who is the store manager for the Steers and Debonairs outlets at the Nkomo Village shopping centre in Atteridgeville, Pretoria, said it had been hectic since operations resumed on Monday but her team was coping.

She said while some customers exercised patience and showed their understanding that they were trying to get their systems in order, there were those who were being difficult.

“I am sure that they are aware that we are only doing deliveries and that takes time as everyone is using the same system [to place their orders]. Unfortunately, the calls are not taken in the shops but from the call centre. We are trying to cope but we can’t satisfy everybody. We are trying by all means also to communicate with customers when their orders are delayed,” Chipundo said.

Their store had done all it could to ensure that there were no job losses after the lockdown.

“We didn’t cut down staff. We just divided them into different shifts so that we comply with the regulations. So everybody is benefiting and we just had to arrange shifts,” she said.

Chipondo said though she hasn’t checked on the numbers, she was certain there were complaints for late deliveries from customers.

Meanwhile, Kamogelo Phetla, who is the store manager of Debonairs at Maunde in Atteridgville said they were running at a loss.

“We are running at a loss. It’s too much loss. We don’t know how it is going to be because even the shifts have changed. It’s less shifts and the payment has also reduced. Everything just went down but rent is still the same. We have no problem with getting stocks on time so we are fine in terms of stock deliveries so that we operate,” he said.

Another challenge they faced was a shortage of delivery drivers.

“The challenges are that we have too many calls coming in and we have a shortage of drivers. So people complain and they demand to order via the store and it cannot happen, they must go through the call centre or online,” Phetla said.

“For now, we have two drivers — the third one is not well as he was involved in an accident. When it gets hectic we also use drivers from the nearby branch,” he said.

Phetla said on Monday, the first day of operations, they lost more than R2,000 because of cancelled orders.

“Customers are not understanding when it come to the circumstances that we are in ... Yesterday we had about 15 orders cancelled,” he said.

It was also a process for the drivers to get the orders from the shops as the stores needed to ensure that they maintain safety measures.

“When the driver gets here we check his temperature. He must sanitise his bags and load up and leave when he comes back, it is the same thing again all day,” Phetla said.

TimesLIVE also spoke to a Debonairs delivery man.

Nkosinathi Maseko said it was hectic but he was coping.

“I don’t even remember how many times I have loaded for deliveries today but I think I have done more than 10 deliveries. There are problems here and there with customers but they understand,” he said.

Maseko who was once robbed before the lockdown while delivering orders in the surrounding area wasn’t bothered about the incident as he said he was fearless.

He said he was not stressed about the incident occurring again.

“I am brave, I don’t fear anything,” said Maseko, who was busy loading up orders in his scooter.

Meanwhile, in Riebeek-Kasteel in the Western Cape,  a pizza outlet owner and her chef pumped out hundreds of pizzas to feed the cravings of residents over the weekend.

Red Tin Roof restaurant opened its doors for the first time on Friday since being closed when the nationwide lockdown was implemented.

“It was very worrying. I had sleepless nights and couldn’t stop thinking about how staff will cope, scared about the future. I still am,” said business owner Sam Rogers.

“Because we are a restaurant which was forced to close we jumped at the opportunity to deliver to customers as a means of creating cash flow, no matter how small,” he added.

Rogers said they were flooded with takeaway orders, but she and her chef Phil, “stepped up to the challenge”.

“We were running a two-man show. He pumps out the pizzas and vetkoek burger orders and I deliver,” he said.

Rogers said they sold over 100 pizzas and around 40 burger vetkoeks over the weekend. The best seller over the weekend was the vegetarian pizza with bacon.

“We certainly hope we can continue with this trend and introduce more items to the menu as time goes by, perhaps even make a little profit for a change. Time will tell,” Rogers said, adding that the electricity bill, suppliers bill and staff salaries needed to be paid.

Several McDonald’s outlets had also opened their doors on Saturday.

The company’s Daniel Padiachy said the response over the weekend was “tremendous”. 

“Our customers have missed their favourite McDonald’s meals and we missed serving them. The response on day one was overwhelmingly positive; we appreciate our customers support and love for brand McDonald’s,” Padiachy said.

Meanwhile, Burger King would be opening their doors on Wednesday.

The company however, said not all their outlets would be immediately reopening for business.

“Unfortunately, due to the poor financial viability of only offering a home delivery service, coupled with the 8pm (level 4) curfew, only a few Burger King restaurants will be open for deliveries at this time,” said Ezelna Jones, group marketing executive.

Deliveries from Burger King would be done by Mr Delivery and Uber Eats.

Jones said they would ensure the safety of not only their customers but their staff members too.

“We will be ensuring that all managers on duty conduct regular wellness checks, including temperature taking for each team member before every shift. To ensure good personal hygiene habits, all Burger King team members are now required to wash hands every 30 minutes at a minimum, as per coronavirus (Covid-19) spread prevention guidelines,” Jones said.

She said their loyal customers had given them hope that their business would thrive.

“We were overwhelmed and humbled by the thousands of South Africans that queued at our restaurants and drive-throughs on the days preceding the official lockdown, as well as our countless social media fans that have kept our brand alive during this challenging and unprecedented time in our country’s (and world’s) history.

“We believe this is the first step towards our ‘new normal’ at Burger King, as we get back to business, but echo our government’s message that health and safety remain the priority for us all as we continue to battle Covid-19 together,” Jones added.

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