ZIMBABWE's restaurant sector says its business is teetering on the brink of collapse following a year of closure or partial operation under the tight Covid-19 lockdown.
The sector is appealing for permission to provide sit-down dining services guided by Covid-19 mitigation protocols and standard hygiene, so as to save the business and jobs.
While the Government has relaxed level four lockdown restriction to allow re-opening of the economy, restaurants and bottle stores have been directed to strictly operate takeaways with no sit-down dining.
Beerhalls, bars, night clubs and gymnasiums will remain closed, President Mnangagwa said on Monday. Restaurant Operators' Association of Zimbabwe president, Mr Bongai Zamchiya, says the non-operational or partial-operational status of restaurants since March last year has severely crippled the sector, with up to half of existing operations now on the brink of permanent closure.
"We had hoped for re-opening of restaurants in the March 1 update announcement, with permission for half-capacity service for sit-down dining, but this has not happened," he said.
"In fact, most restaurants are faced with full costs related to rentals, wages and other inputs, but we have no income, while those that are able to do takeaways report income of between eight and 20 percent of pre-lockdown levels.
"We are, quite literally, at a crossroads and we appeal for urgent attention to avert a disaster for the trade and many of its suppliers."
Mr Zamchiya said properly-run restaurants have a high level of hygiene and of operational standards, all of which could be easily monitored and are highly regulated.
He said ROAZ conducted a research into the effects of lockdown and a position paper has been tabled with the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Tourism and Hospitality and the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, outlining the severity of the situation.
"We are fully supportive of the national effort to contain and eliminate Covid-19, but the current dispensation for the restaurant trade is no longer tenable," he said.
"We face a huge level of business closures and job losses, not only in the restaurant trade but among the many suppliers to the trade."
Mr Zamchiya said the travel and tourism sector held a meeting with the parent ministry last week and hoped the Government would consider their concerns. He said restaurants are key operators in the tourism space, which is a significant economic sector and traditionally earns a billion dollars in foreign currency.
"We are active in economic growth and contribute a significant amount to the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority's revenue, which is then used to promote domestic and international tourism," he said.
Mr Zamchiya said restaurants, both small stand-alone operations and large corporate operations were essential service providers to communities.
"When we were partially operational in the second half of 2020, we showed that safe and secure dining is possible and easy to achieve, and we are requesting urgent attention to our crisis, and that of our suppliers, from farming through to manufacturing," he said.
With limited business, Mr Zamchiya said most players in the sector would struggle to pay full licence fees, among other running costs to keep afloat.