Tips for restaurants to survive social distancing after lockdown

Sunday May 17 2020
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How feasible is social distancing for restaurant owners

Before one opens a restaurant, a well-thought out plan has to be taken into account. Some of these aspects would be location, which is a determinant factor for the amount of rent one has to pay. The type of food that one intends to serve, staffing, parking and a host of other items too numerous to dwell on here. Last but not least, is the seating capacity which in the case of traditional waiter service joints becomes a critical factor in determining the success or failure of the venture.

Before starting
An illustration of the importance of the seating capacity, take a look at this scenario: assuming that the optimum available seating for a given restaurant is 80 covers and during the working hours they are able to turn over those covers five times which would mean 400 diners. If the average cost per cover is Shs35,000, this would result in a gross income of Shs14m on a daily basis. Needless to say, these figures are never cast in stone but ceteris paribus they are the determining factor of revenue generation that an investor goes by before setting up shop. This is the case with all the high end establishments in town.

The feel
To be told that going forward diners will have to be kept two metres apart until further notice will come as a blow to the hospitality industry. In one fell swoop, one’s revenue will be halved yet fixed costs such as rent, furniture, equipment will remain the same. Not to mention that if one borrowed capital for the project the amount and repayment schedule would not change. However, the variable costs such as manpower, food cost will decrease with utilities pretty much remaining constant.

Ideal solutions
So, what else could be done to mitigate the circumstances?
One way would be to double prices which no doubt would be suicidal since demand for food is inelastic.
The other option is to create an exclusive place and charge an arm and a leg with a view to garnering the original intended revenue. I think a place such as Noma, a two-star Michelin restaurant run by Chef Rene Redzepi in Copenhagen, Denmark. It is ranked as the best restaurant in the world by Restaurant Magazine. A meal per person will set you back about $375 (Shs1.4m) for lunch or dinner without drinks. Seating capacity for Noma is 40 seats. Before the Covid-19 scourge, reservations up to June were taken in March and up to April in February. Will such a model work in Uganda? It remains to be seen.

Not satisfactory
In the short run, I believe the best thing would be to reconfigure the kitchen and extend it into the dining area allowing for a small number of tables and brace yourself for the following; institutional and contract catering plus takeaway orders.

Digital future
Short of that, there could be no ready or practical solution to the new order of business. Takeaway is the easiest one to take on and can be done with a minimum of rearranging the status quo. Nowadays with readily available apps for ordering food, this is where the future lies. Though, I hasten to add that one would be well advised to invest in branded mopeds. Institutional and contract catering are not easy to break into, but remember Rome wasn’t built in a day.

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