Prime Minister Robert Abela on Wednesday announced a raft of new measures aimed at halting the spread of COVID-19 at social gathering by placing an 11pm curfew on restaurants.
The measures, which will come into effect in February, left many restaurateurs worried about the effect on their already severely impacted business.
WhosWho.mt reached out to three restaurants to get their reaction to the announcement.
Oswald Caruana, owner and chef at La Sfoglia, Valletta, seemed irritated by the new measures, but said that “business is already so bad it won’t really make a difference”.
He said that by 11pm, they would probably be closed anyway.
He said that for the Government to save the few successful businesses that are left, VAT and electricity fees must be cut “ASAP”. Otherwise, he said, most of the remaining restaurants will drown.
The measures Mr Caruana is calling for here are largely in line with those introduced by the Government during the first lockdown in Malta. For example, the Electricity Bills Refund Scheme, which was introduced by Malta Enterprise as part of the economic regeneration package, announced on 8th June 2020, offered a 50 per cent refund on electricity bills for effected establishments during the period July to September 2020.
The Government also introduced a Tax Deferral Scheme which offered beneficiaries a deferment on provisional tax and VAT otherwise due between March and August 2020.
Mr Caruana believes that Government measures have helped the catering industry so far, emphasising that the Government “really helped” catering outlets with their wage supplement scheme.
Meanwhile, Andre Micallef, responsible for operations and business development at the Marvin Gauci Group, said that, “obviously, we’re quite perplexed”.
He said the Group’s management cannot understand the reasoning behind the new restrictions.
Mr Micallef said the Group’s restaurants were “instantly” bombarded with a “barrage of calls”. “We have people asking if we’re going to kick them out at 11pm as they’re having dessert. Well, of course not!”
The Group, which operates four restaurants, including Tarragon and Caviar & Bull, is now discussing how the announcement will impact its business.
Another restaurateur, Christopher Cassar, owner of Ta’ Kris Restaurant in Sliema, believes that further details are necessary for restaurants to properly assess the impact, as he decried how the industry was bearing the brunt of a few businesses’ and individuals’ irresponsible behaviour.
“We still have to know how it’s going to work,” he said. While seemingly accepting that customers must exit the premises by 11pm, he questioned whether the same applied for staff. “If the place needs to be closed and empty of staff by that time, we would need to take the last order at 9.30.”
He explained how activities conducted after the closure of the kitchen easily took an hour, in between cleaning and preparation, meaning that a strict curfew applying also to staff “doesn’t work out too nicely”.
“It’s already tough when we don’t have customers,” he lamented. “Saturday night is when we do our best to keep going, taking on late bookings to make up for the distancing rules” - Ta’ Kris saw their tables decrease from 17 to seven – “and then we need to tell them to leave at 9.30pm.”
He continues, “It’s difficult. It eliminates our chance for a second seating.” He explains how the restaurant is struggling to make 15 covers a night, down from 150 pre-pandemic.
Mr Cassar blames the authorities for not taking action against a few outlets that consistently break the rules. He sympathises also with bar and club owners who he feels have been unfairly targeted because of the uneven enforcement that sees establishments like his inspected regularly as others “are packing people shoulder to shoulder night after night”.
“Instead of taking care of a few bars, they take it out on everybody. We’re bearing the brunt, and it’s not fair,” he said.