Namibia: Restaurants, Lodges Fear Final Nail in Coffin

IT started with the announcement that there would be no eating out at restaurants - only on a takeaway basis.

Now, one month later, many restaurant and lodge owners and managers are hanging on by a thread after president Hage Geingob's order.

For them, it was the kiss of death.

"I used to have six tables with about 50 people for lunch. As you can see, I only have one couple for lunch. We get a few takeaway orders when we are lucky," Mariana Lamberth, manager of Hardekole Pub and Grill at Walvis Bay, says.

THREE CLIENTS PER WEEK

She says the situation is getting worse.

"We come here every day just to sit and wait for someone to walk past this place. People want to come and sit here to socialise. They are not really interested in takeaways.

"Sometimes we get three clients per week who order their favourite meals. We also have to pay rent and employees' salaries, which is the hardest part - it comes from the little we get," Lamberth says.

Lu-Andre Duvenhage, owner of Dockside Seafood and Grill, also based at Walvis Bay, says they are trying hard to keep their doors open.

"It is really tough, but we cannot do much. We are serious with takeaways now. We have also started with our roadhouse, where you can park outside while we serve you in the car. People want the sea view. They don't want to just order and sit at home. We have also started a delivery service.

"We are thinking of many ideas, as long as we can cover our expenses and pay the six permanent employees," he says.

The restaurant's income has been cut by 70% since the announcement of the latest restrictions, he says.

Another Walvis Bay establishment, Flamingo Villas Hotel, is battling the same fate.

The hotel's marketing manager, Klaus Brucker, says some overseas clients do not want to stay over unless staff members are vaccinated.

"We have informed staff about the complaints from clients. It is their choice, though. They are not forced. Some have decided to get vaccinated," he says.

Brucker says the hotel is employing innovative ways to stay afloat.

"We now have takeaway services, which is not bad, even though it is not the same," he says.

MORE SALARY CUTS

Sirkka Messerli, co-owner of Cape Town Fish Market in Windhoek, says she experienced a drop in the restaurant's turnover and had to cut her staff members' salaries by 50%.

"There is very little we are doing with takeaways, so we are experiencing only a fraction of the normal turnover," she says.

Messerli says they cannot plan anything due to unpredictable restrictions.

They plan operations weekly to accommodate possible restrictions that may hit them, she says.

"Restrictions are communicated a day before they come into effect, which makes operating very difficult," she says.

The owner of Cassia Thai Restaurant in Windhoek, who prefers not to be named, says they had to cut their budget by 50%.

However, this only lasted while Namibia was in Stage 1 of the lockdown, he says.

He says his waiters have been severely impacted by the pandemic, as they lost out on tips, which has forced him not to further cut their salaries.

He says during Stage 1 of the lockdown, he, his wife, his son and two chefs were the only staff members working at the restaurant.

"The big difference was the change in customers. It took customers a while to realise they need to order before 21h00 [curfew]," he says.

The restaurant, which employs 14 people, also had to renegotiate its rent conditions.

CLOSING FOR BUSINESS

Eli Ndjukuma, the owner of Destiny Hotel at Ongwediva, says he is waiting for president Hage Geingob's next announcement to decide whether he would need to retrench staff.

He says most of the hotel's customers are locals who travel to Ongwediva from other regions.

"Our monthly expenses have always been the same. It's difficult to pay maintenance," he says.

Oshakati-based Bahay Susan Bed and Breakfast owner Susan Lardelli says she is now forced to sell cupcakes, lemons, trees, and hibiscus and herbal tea from her garden to survive and pay the three women working for her.

"I don't want them to lose their jobs. Many people in the tourism business are now paranoid because they don't have business due to the Covid-19 lockdown. I make money because the place is mine. What about those who are renting?" she says.

Oshandira Lodge owner Jorge Matheus says he is unable to pay salaries and bank loans and he is closing down his business. Oshandira is one of the oldest lodges at Oshakati.

RESORTING TO ODD JOBS

Curt Sagell, the owner of Caprivi House Safaris, which is based at Katima Mulilo, says they are operating at 10% of the income they used to make previously.

He says he resorted to doing odd jobs to sustain his lodge.

"Local travel was beneficial to us, but now we cannot even travel outside the regions," he says.

At Mariental, the owner of Tahiti Guest House and Restraurant, Wilma Badenhorst, says: "We don't receive customers like we used to ... I was thinking about retrenching some workers. I hope it won't come to that."

Justice minister Yvonne Dausab told The Namibian yesterday that the concept of serving customers in the car is "new and interesting".

"Question is whether they being served in a car is a takeway. Regulation 8(1A) (a) is against restaurants offering customers a sit-down meal. In other words, they must do so on a takeaway basis. The ordinary meaning of takeaway is that a person buys the food at a restaurant with the intention of eating it elsewhere," she said.

"But we must applaud businesses for being innovative in their efforts to curb the further spread of the virus."

- Reporting by Taati Niilenge, John-Colin Namene, Eliaser Ndeyanale, Lugeretzia Kooper and Charmaine Boois

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