JOBS SAVE LIVES
I am proud to be part of the restaurant industry. It is filled with talented, passionate, dedicated people who love what they do. Many have entered on the bottom rung of the ladder, and by having the right attitude and good mentors, have worked themselves up into positions as waitrons, managers, sommeliers and chefs. Raymond Blanc, OBE, started his career as a pot scrubber, and there are many similar successful stories here in South Africa. Starting a restaurant requires enormous effort, huge capital and admirable courage – keeping it open in a highly competitive environment, even more.
This is the industry that has been decimated by COVID-19 pandemic, claimed to be losing more than three times more jobs than any other industry, an industry that employs more than 15 million people. It’s an industry that feeds so many other industries and professions – suppliers, producers, wine farms, writers, photographers, laundries, ceramicists – too many to count. The recent regulations regarding the serving and selling of alcohol and the curfew, just days after restaurants re-opened (at huge costs and with extreme sweat to adhere to COVID-19 protocols), plus insurers refusing to pay out, has brought many restaurants struggling to remain open, to their knees.
After years of researching and reviewing top restaurants worldwide we started the Plate Rating in South Africa in 2016, equivalent to Michelin stars or Australian hats. Globally-iconic chefs assisted in establishing the criteria, some of whom then gave of their expertise, freely, to help with anonymous evaluations. Chefs are innately generous individuals, givers and people-pleasers, and we remain indebted to our SA chefs who host our reviews. They’ve welcomed me into their ‘homes’ and proudly shared their inspiration. They have made me feel like a part of their families. It’s not only the closure of plated, high-end dining establishments that distresses me, but the likes of heartwarming, authentic and (in)credible institutions like Karen Dudley’s The Kitchen in Cape Town and Pablo Eggs Go Bar in Jo’burg. The closing of the little take-away that sells the best samosas is also keeping me awake at night. They have all made a huge contribution to the industry.
I was unprepared for how emotional I would be every time I see a photograph of a chef showing the number of people employed in their restaurant. I shed a tear for every number. My sadness is replaced by anger when I read of how nothing is being done to help them. In the UK restaurant-goers are being subsidized in the month of August, to encourage the public to frequent them. Imagine if our restaurants could receive the same, or similar support? Many have not even received UIF or TERS.
I’m asking everyone who reads anything I write, who has ever enjoyed a restaurant meal in SA, to stand in solidarity, to sign petitions, to silently and peacefully protest, and to support restaurant social media campaigns. We need to get the government to sit up and take notice. Help the restaurants, coffee-shops and take-aways as they take to the streets on Wednesday 22 July, between 12 and 2pm, before more people end up on the streets, jobless, homeless and helpless.
Jobs save lives!