The hospitality sector – bars, restaurants and other food and drinks services – could be facing disaster come autumn if the months of July and August fail to deliver real recovery, according to HR consultancy SD Worx.
The so-called horeca sector (hotels-restaurants-cafes) was the first to close at the start of the lockdown, and only opened up again on 8 June. During that time, some restaurants were able to keep their heads above water by offering takeaway and delivery, but on the whole, the industry was at a standstill.
The sector was allowed to reopen, but only under strict conditions: staff wearing masks, 1.5m distance between tables, no bar service, closing time at 1:00 AM. Those who were able made full use of their outside space, in gardens and pavement terraces.
However, those options were not open to all, and even when they were, the weather so far has not been as conducive to outdoor celebrating as might be expected in July.
Only 48% of the staff employed in the sector before the lockdown have now returned to work, according to SD Worx. That figure is influenced by the fact that the catering sector, which includes everything from works canteens to catering for major events, remains closed. But even leaving that aspect aside, only 55% of cafe and restaurant staff are back at work.
Steven Rosseel of SD Worx explained the problem.
“This has to do with the fact that they can allow fewer people into the restaurant. On the other hand, there are cafes, restaurants and hotels that have not opened at all, so that employment there has been lost entirely.”
Tourism should also be a major source of income in the summer months, but the worldwide situation is such that tourism is depressed, as many people prefer not to travel, and some are simply not allowed to.
“We hope that domestic tourism will be able to replace a share of international tourism,” Rosseel said. “But we are going to have to remain realistic. The figures do not look rosy at the moment, although they are moving in the right direction.”
Put bluntly, the company predicts new closures in the industry if July and August do not deliver the necessary recovery. According to figures from the national bank, one business in ten has said a bankruptcy is likely or even very likely if the situation does not improve.
Restaurant and meatballs entrepreneur Wim Ballieu of the Balls & Glory chain put his finger on the problem for the VRT.
“There is certainly a group of people goes back to the restaurants, thanks to our precautions in terms of hygiene and distance. But the classic vibe in a city – living, working, visiting and culture – has not yet come back.”