Restaurants take government to court over 'absurd' alcohol, social distancing rules

Restaurants cannot survive if they are not allowed to serve alcohol with meals, a group led by Cape Town-based Chefs Warehouse argued in court papers filed on Wednesday.
Restaurants cannot survive if they are not allowed to serve alcohol with meals, a group led by Cape Town-based Chefs Warehouse argued in court papers filed on Wednesday.
Image: 123RF/Andrey Bayda

A group of restaurants is heading to court to force the government to allow their patrons to drink alcohol with their meals.

Led by Cape Town-based Chefs Warehouse restaurants, the group said in court papers filed on Wednesday that it wanted the matter to be heard on an urgent basis on Tuesday morning, or as soon soon as possible thereafter.

According to the group, opening up the industry to sell food but not alcoholic beverages is like telling a swimming instructor she can reopen her business but her learners are not allowed to swim in the pool.

The group wants “all restaurants in possession of a valid liquor licence" to be allowed to serve booze with meals to their patrons on-site, subject to the conditions of their liquor licence and all other applicable laws.

They also want “the social distancing prescribed requirement of 1.5m between all patrons in the restaurant ... declared to specifically exclude patrons voluntarily deciding to sit at the same table, sharing it”, according to the founding affidavit.

For the three months of lockdown - April, May and June - restaurants could not trade at all (except for deliveries and takeaways) and had no income, but they still had substantial expenses and suppliers to pay.

“The combination of the absurd distancing application at shared tables and the ban on the serving of alcohol with meals for all practical purposes makes it impossible for restaurants to actually open and trade in a manner where they can expect to survive financially - and will make the eating-out experience so absurd and unpleasant that nobody would actually want to do it,” they argue in court papers sent to TimesLIVE.

“In a restaurant where there are no or too few guests, the business goes down.”

The case is brought against Cogta minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, whose ministry is responsible for gazetting regulations according to the Disaster Management Act.

The group warned that if restaurants are not able to trade normally and these two “extremely restrictive” conditions remain in force - even just for the next week or two - an unprecedented wave of retrenchments would follow.

“Patrons normally enjoy a wine or beer with their meals in a restaurant, or far less often perhaps a whiskey or some other strong drink,” the papers read.

“Dining out is normally a relaxed and sophisticated and pleasant exercise. With all other protocols declared by the government in place, the mere fact of serving a glass of wine or beer with the meals cannot have any causal effect on promoting or preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

“The selling of alcoholic beverages in a restaurant makes out 70% of all restaurant sales. The profit margin on liquor sales are far higher than the very narrow profit margin on foods. Without liquor sales, restaurant simply cannot operate profitably and will have to close their doors and retrench their staff.”

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