One in three bars and restaurants will not reopen following lockdown
Saturday, 16 May 2020
“Restaurants, cafes and hotels had a relatively difficult time before the crisis."
Monday sees the further relaxation of lockdown rules that have been in place now for nine weeks, but the first to close – the bars and restaurants – look like being the last to reopen.
The introduction of temporary unemployment for staff who were forced to stop work by circumstances out of their control has given owners a breathing space, said Gunther Dieltjens, owner of four restaurants in Antwerp including the Pomphuis. Staff costs, he pointed out, make up a large part of an establishment’s total spending.
But the measure is temporary, and is due to run out on May 31. The trouble for the industry is that the national security council has no plans to announce any further relaxation of restrictions before June 8. And not only does that represent a week of complete uncertainty for the sector, the news, whatever it may be, will come as a bolt from the blue.
“Reopening requires a lot of preparation,” Dieltjens said. “You have to restart machines, such as coolers. You have to organise. How much capacity will we have? For the time being, that is guesswork. Every café and restaurant has a certain break-even point. The reasoning that if you use 30 percent of the capacity, you run at 30 percent of your cost is wrong. Sometimes you would be better off just staying closed.”
The future looks bleak, according to economist Peter De Keyser, with massive closures of bars and restaurants.
Some major names have already gone to the wall. Le Pain Quotidien, which as well as counter sales also offered in-service snacks and dining before the closure, has sought protection from its creditors. The Hotel Metropole in Brussels is seeking a buyer after more than a century of gilded excellence.
De Keyser sees more of the same to come. “Restaurants, cafes and hotels had a relatively difficult time before the crisis,” he said.
“There is always a major bankruptcy risk in that sector, and that risk is now going to increase. In Washington, they expect a third of restaurants and cafes to go bankrupt. I don’t see why that would be any less here. I seriously expect a third of cafes and restaurants will not open after the lockdown.”