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Restaurants fight to survive Covid-19 hits

Port O Call Restaurant (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Restaurant owners warned yesterday the pandemic-hit industry is now “hanging by a thread”.

Now members of the trade have banded together in a bid to stave off the threat of closures.

The move came in the wake of an indoors dining ban until June 24 and added to a crippling loss of Christmas business.

Karl Massam, the general manager of restaurant group Yellowfin and chairman of the restaurant division of the Chamber of Commerce, said the embattled businesses had “come together to negotiate as one entity”.

He added: “We are reaching out to all our partners, including the Government, to discuss creative ways to support our industry.”

Mr Massam said restaurants would campaign for support from banks, insurance companies, landlords and suppliers, to avoid going under.

He was backed by Jay Correia, owner of the Swizzle Inn in Hamilton Parish, who said the industry was “on life support”.

Mr Correia warned that businesses were sure to fail without a break in the bleak conditions.

He said that “many are on the edge as we speak” – and that support from “multiple sectors” would be needed to keep restaurants in business.

Mr Correia admitted: “We as a group are not optimistic that will be forthcoming.

“But the restaurant division of the Chamber of Commerce is embarking on a campaign to seek help and relief from these groups for the benefit of all restaurants in Bermuda.”

Mr Correia singled out the possibility of breaks on business loans from banks and on “crippling” health insurance premiums as lifelines for the sector.

He said he had delivered food to a young Bermudian trainee waiter and his mother who were both “laid off due to lockdown”.

Mr Correia said: “There's a lot of hurt out there.”

Dennie O’Connor, the new owner of White Horse Pub and Restaurant in St George’s, said the sector had received little of the support it needed to survive.

He added: “It’s only a matter of time before more restaurants close for good.

“As the owner of multiple restaurants, I am fearful for the future if we continue on this path.

“Sure, we put on a brave face to the public and pretend like everything is great, but behind the scenes our industry is crumbling, and fast.”

Mr O’Connor said the March 28 announcement that restricted businesses to outside dining only and then a cut to just kerbside pick-up and home delivery had hit hard.

He added: “I have gone from 36 full-time employees to just seven part-time employees”.

Mr O’Connor said The White Horse had spent $20,000 on the preparation of outdoor dining space, including heaters, extra furniture and tents, but outdoor dining was shut down just two weeks later.

Mr Massam added the loss of Christmas trade – the “biggest single month for most restaurants” – stood out as the harshest blow of “this incredibly difficult year”.

He said “several” owners were unsure how much longer their establishments could hold out.

Mr Massam added: “We currently have approximately 2,600 Bermudians and 1,400 work permit holders employed in our restaurants across Bermuda.

“For a year now, nearly 95 per cent of those have either been on layoff at some point or underemployed and the staff that are working are on reduced hours resulting in reduced pay.”

Mr Massam said bartenders, all Bermudian, were probably the worst hit.

He added: “We have many stories between us of employees coming to owners for loans or racking up massive health insurance debts.”

He said sales losses for the last year were between 50 and 80 per cent.

But Mr Massam said. “We are not asking for anyone to bail us out.”

The Government has offered relief to bars, to establishments hit by mandatory business closures last month, to workers under mandatory quarantine, and a lockdown benefit since April 13.

But Alun Hughes, president and general manager of the food services division of the distributor company Butterfield and Vallis, said the hospitality industry had been suffered blow after blow “just as that community felt like it was seeing glimmers of light”.

Mr Hughes added: “They’re more than our customers. We’ve dealt with them for decades.

“Equally within the food service division, we have endured the same grief. We were compelled to make people redundant.

“If you’d asked us about this scenario two years ago, nothing like it was on our radar.”

Mr Hughes said some restaurants had suffered from factors such as how much outdoor seating they could manage.

He added: “We’re playing a game of cards where some are getting a dreadful hand all the time.

But he said: “I can understand the challenge of creating a one-glove-fits-all solution.

Mr Hughes added that some restaurants, such as The Spot in Hamilton, had opted to stay closed.

He said: “Potentially, there is a need for more flexibility, and an ongoing dialogue and the appreciation that, in the restaurant community, not everybody has been given the same end of the stick.

“The ones holding the bad end are really feeling it.”

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Published April 28, 2021 at 8:06 am (Updated April 28, 2021 at 8:06 am)

Restaurants fight to survive Covid-19 hits

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