Side hustle has become the main hustle, Covid-19

Lockdown Mother’s Day 2020, South Africa is on Sunday – May 10.

This is the date for Mother’s Day in South Africa, USA and some other countries but not for the UK. Anyway, the point of this story is that last year, May 2019, we thought it would be cool to for a destination Mother’s Day lunch in the Cape Winelands. We called to make a booking on the Wednesday before Mother’s Day.  Our first choice was The Goat Shed, at Fairview Wine Estate, Paarl. Every single place was booked up.

We eventually lunched in a local restaurant, with views of the parking lot and mountains. It was amazing. I miss that spot. It has not opened as it is not geared for take-out. More of that follows. Read on.

As I write, Covid lockdown restrictions have been eased slightly with take-out permitted, by delivery service. There is a flurry of Mother’s Day specials going out on social media platforms.  Some restaurants which are equipped for take-out, have opened. Many restaurants which are equipped for on-site and eat-in dining have not opened. Many have indicated that it will not be economically viable for them to operate until all lockdown measures have been halted. This means that until the time that they can fill all their covers (seats) and serve alcohol, it is unlikely that they will open their doors.

Restaurant bounce back – uhhm -not an easy one…

My husband is involved in a business which is a supplier to the hospitality industry. The company has ground to a halt –as has the whole industry. I mention this in the interest of disclosure and also to provide context to this article. Many people have been calling me. They are excited. Take-out is available. It is great because everything will be back to “normal” soon. They cannot wait to dine out.

Not so easy. Here is why: Restaurants geared for on-site dining cannot bounce back like magic.  Operating costs are prohibitive. An example: If post lockdown regulations allow for a third of seating capacity to be filled, and that is just a random number I am using, then a 300 seater restaurant can only fill 100 seats. The rent is the rent. Unless the landlord has agreed or you own the property, the rent must be paid at hundred percent. Other examples: The industrial fridge must be switched on at full power. It is not possible to use a third of the fridge. The power is the power. The same goes for every aspect of the kitchen- gas and so on. Let’s look at the equipment such as the industrial coffee machine. The supplier has gone into liquidation. A new machine is needed. But the restaurant owner cannot pay up front and requests credit. The coffee machine supplier- who used to supply on credit – needs upfront payment. There is the question of buying in food. No accounts available. No one can afford to supply on credit.  Who shall we say is paying?

Who shall we say is paying?

Costing in post lockdown is a logistical nightmare. How does a restaurant hire staff, without any idea of how many diners will emerge from their homes, to dine in public? Waitrons and other kitchen staff cannot work for nothing – on the maybe. Operators cannot open at a loss. Yup, it is not an easy one. Who shall we say is paying?

Main jobs- gone. Side hustles – gone

You may be reading this and thinking, “Why we are talking restaurants when so many people have no money for food”?  I will tell you why.  The hospitality industry employs a lot of people. On the radio, I have been hearing numbers being bandied about – that around 30 percent of jobs have been embedded in the hospitality industry. I am unable to verify figure this with a peer reviewed study. There are a lot of statistics out there but it is difficult to verify the sample number of respondents in surveys and to gain a sense of how the surveys have been audited. Suffice to say that it is a large number of people employed in hospitality (includes restaurants and hotels). According to the site, South African Market Insights: “As at September 2018 there were 268 299 people working in the Hotels and restaurants industry in South Africa.” No figures on that site for September 2019.

During lockdown, jobs have been lost. It is not a matter of retrieving those jobs. They are gone. As explained above, it is not economically viable for onsite venues to open until they may operate at capacity. Coupled with that, there is the fact that many people do not have money to eat out. Lack of patronage will lead to further closures.

Theatres, cinemas, clubs are not open. Actors have nowhere to perform. The same goes for musicians. In their “spare time”, many worked as baristas, bar tenders, managers. That was their “side hustle”. The side hustle job is gone as the restaurant industry has been essentially shuttered. With take-out by delivery, there are not many openings as things stand. No one knows how long it will take for viable jobs to become available.

Spend! Spend! Spend but who shall we say is paying?

And the answer is? Spend! But, if you have no money, how can you spend? Correct. But if there is no spend, then the restaurant and hospitality industry cannot re-boot; cannot create jobs and hire. Correct.

Who shall we say is paying?  The answer: Those that have spare cash, please spend so that the hospitality industry can rejuvenate; so that jobs can open up. The landscape is vast: managers, drivers, chefs, events planers, entertainers (the artists who cannot perform in theatre as theatres are closed), suppliers of toilet paper, coffee, flowers; accountants, chefs, sommeliers, baristas, photographer etc.

The side hustle has become the main hustle but the problem is that the landscape of the main hustle (hospitality) has been flattened by the lockdown.

Happy lockdown Mother’s Day. Let us hope that we will not live in such “uncertain times” by Mother’s Day 2020.

Image credit: A goat at The Goat Shed, Fairview Wine Estate, Paarl, South Africa. Pic: TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen, 2010.