Restaurants hope for takeout return
Many income-starved, Bermudian restaurants are hoping the Government will allow them to resume takeout service after the lockdown period ends next month.
Amid the enforced closure of their businesses, many have laid off virtually all their staff and are digging deep to pay employees' health insurance during the Covid-19 crisis.
Allowing takeout service would give them at least a little revenue and get some of their employees back to work, according to Holger Eiselt, founder and chief executive officer of Take Five Ltd.
Take Five owns Devils Isle, Village Pantry and the Buzz chain of restaurants, and has laid off its 180 staff, but continues to pay health insurance premiums for those employees, plus some of their dependents who are on the plans.
Mr Eiselt said he hoped that after the shelter-in-place period ends on May 2, some form of takeout service will resume.
“That would allow us to keep the wheels spinning until we can reopen the restaurants will full service again, but that could be months away,” Mr Eiselt said.
He envisaged the potential for kerbside pick-up and home deliveries. Jason Berwick, the company's co-CEO, said Take Five had launched an online ordering system two weeks ago that would help such a process.
Mr Eiselt stressed his gratitude to the Government for its rapid implementation of unemployment benefits that allowed its staff to continue to earn an income after the eateries were shuttered. But other overheads continue to weigh.
“Obviously there's a huge burden with regard to rents,” Mr Eiselt said. The company has 12 eatery locations. “We're grateful to some of our landlords, who've given us discounts. We continue to carry the health insurance burden going forward, both the employee and employer parts.”
One positive aspect to come out of the crisis is that restaurants have been donating perishables from their refrigerators to local charities seeing a spike in demand for food.
Take Five, for example has given food including fresh fruit and vegetables, eggs and milk worth close to $8,000 to Meals on Wheels. Chefs from shuttered hotels have also been lending their skills to prepare the food for beneficiaries, Mr Berwick said.
He added: “Meals on Wheels are so grateful for the fresh fruit and produce that they don't normally have access to. They normally have to use a lot of packaged foods.”
He added that Take Five supports food charities such as Daily Bread and Eliza DoLittle Society on a regular basis.
As for the Government's relief plan for small and medium-sized businesses, announced on Wednesday evening by Curtis Dickinson, the finance minister, Mr Eiselt said he had not had time to digest it and did not wish to comment on further measures that could help.
“It's a bit unclear whether we would qualify for any support,” he added. “We all understand that the government coffers didn't look too great before this thing started, so it's very difficult for the finance minister.
“As he said in a press conference, we won't be going back to the way of doing business that we were used to before, so it will take a lot of creativity to adjust to the new reality.”
On what those changes would mean for restaurants, Mr Berwick said: “If you look at other countries they're already saying that restaurants and bars are not going to open for many months to come.
“I think that's the reality of how people are going to react to this. They're going to be very wary of sitting in confined spaces with other people.
“I think quick-serve is going to be first to get back on its feet. Restaurants are going to take longer, I'm sure.”
Philip Barnett, president of Island Restaurant Group, said he had not had chance to review details of the relief programme and so declined to comment on it.
He added: “One thing I will say is we desperately would like to inform the minister of the particular challenges our industry faces over all others as we are completely unique.
“We are working to get a one-on-one meeting with him, or have a representative on his consultation panel, as our needs are significantly different and more complex than most others.”
Mr Eiselt urged the public to come out and support local restaurants when the crisis had passed. “Don't forget the memorable times you had in bars and restaurants,” he said. “We want you to be here again with us to create more memories.”
Amid the public health crisis, Mr Eiselt said it was important not to lose sight of the victims of a simultaneous and deepening economic crisis.
“We all agree that our essential workers should be celebrated, but we should remember that there are many people suffering greatly, business owners and the employees of businesses that have been shut down,” Mr Eiselt said.
“They are heroes too and they need to be heroes going forward, because I don't think Bermuda can afford to lose businesses, because if businesses are lost, livelihoods are lost.”