Restaurants lay bare their realities in SAB's fight against booze ban

Several restaurants have laid bare in court papers the difficulties they are having because of the clampdown on alcohol sales.
Several restaurants have laid bare in court papers the difficulties they are having because of the clampdown on alcohol sales.
Image: 123RF/BRENT HOFACKER

Popular Johannesburg eatery The Local Grill will be unable to keep its doors open beyond the end of January if the alcohol ban continues, its owner Steven Maresch said in court papers on Tuesday.

Maresch’s affidavit is one of five supplementary affidavits that have been added to the court case brought by South African Breweries (SAB), challenging the alcohol ban imposed on December 29 under the amended level 3 lockdown regulations.

SAB has urgently approached the Western Cape High Court, asking it to declare the regulations that provide for the alcohol ban to be “unlawful and of no force and effect”.

The affidavits include two from restaurant owners and one from the Restaurant Association of SA, which said that a survey of its members revealed that the prohibition on the sale of alcohol “endangers the job security of a significant number of restaurant employees”.

Maresch said The Local Grill employs 34 people full-time. Already, before the ban, and just as a result of the curfew and seating restrictions, the restaurant was only just breaking even.

“The complete prohibition on the sale of alcohol implemented on 29 December 2020 has resulted in a further 30% drop in turnover ... The consequence of this is that The Local Grill is now unable to make ends meet and faces permanent closure,” he said.

Maresch said if the prohibition were to remain in place, on “the most optimistic outlook” it would not be able to remain open beyond the end of January. If it shuts down its “entire staff contingent will be rendered jobless,” he said.

William Tomlin, the owner of eight restaurants in and around Cape Town, including the Chefs Warehouse chain, said his restaurants employ 251 people. One has already had to close temporarily, he said. So far he has managed to keep all staff on the payroll, though some on reduced salaries, he said. New staff had to be employed for Covid-19 check-in procedures at each restaurant.

“This was achieved by cutting into both my and each restaurant’s cash reserves. I have also had to remortgage my personal home, take out loans from the bank, and cash in on my pension fund to keep salaries paid, and keep the restaurants afloat,” said Tomlin.

“Financially, we are running out of road,” he said.

SAB’s own supplementary affidavit detailed the additional costs it has had to bear from alcohol imports that have come in from overseas — with more coming — yet SAB is prevented from transporting them from the Durban port to its warehouses.

“There are 99 containers at the shipping yard that attract a fee of R93 per day each. A further 471 containers are due to arrive at Durban over the next month,” said SAB’s Richard Rivett-Carnac.

After the first 15 days, there is an additional fee of between USD60 and USD80 per container per day, he said.

The government is yet to file its answering court papers.

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