Restaurants lament further losses due to 6pm curfew

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Restaurants are reporting losses of more than 50 percent since the latest, shorter curfew hours came into effect on February 16.

Stricter restrictions on a number of businesses were implemented on January 29 including forced closure of all bars and gyms, and limiting eateries to takeaway meals only – along with a nightly curfew of 8pm-5am – amid a spike in coronavirus cases.

But when those hours were shaved further still to 6pm earlier this month, many restaurateurs found their already limited revenue took a further nosedive.

Dimitrius Mehilli, of Akropolis Greek Restaurant in Jolly Harbour, told Observer, “When we had the 8pm curfew it wasn’t the best but it helped us a lot – and not only us but many businesses.

“Since it was brought down to 6pm, our takeaways have gone down by half, maybe even more.”

John Karlsson, owner of Al Porto’s, pointed out that not only had his sales fallen drastically in the last 10 days, so too would badly-needed government revenue.

“Most of our sale was between 5pm and 7pm when the curfew was 8pm. Now, our sales have dropped about 50 percent,” he told Observer.

“That’s less ABST to the government, and less fees to Social Security, Medical Benefits and Education Levy due to less staff,” he added.

Several other restaurant owners told Observer yesterday the only thing that would save their businesses right now was a return to socially distanced in-house dining.

Three weeks ago, Mehilli launched a petition urging government to reconsider banning dining on the premises. He said many businesses who had maintained scrupulous measures to curb Covid spread felt they were being penalised for the unruly behaviour of some of their counterparts in other parts of the island.

Meanwhile, with more eateries offering home delivery as a means of staying afloat, one major player in the sector is suggesting that allowing them to do so outside the current curfew hours could help save struggling businesses.

Developer of the QuickServe meal delivery app, Kurt Carter, believes restaurants could safely remain open beyond 6pm for delivery only.

“I think the sector could do with more hours because there’s generally just two times where a restaurant really makes money, and that is within the lunch periods and the dinner periods,” he said.

“Currently, that dinner period is no longer available. So, to save the sector, having the curfew could still be maintained where we all need to go home at a certain time to reduce persons being on the road, but the restaurants could probably be allowed to extend their hours and operate in a delivery-only matter.”

Carter said many affected restaurants are struggling to keep workers employed. He believes allowing them to remain open beyond the curfew for deliveries only would help save jobs too.

“That’s generally…on the top of my list of things that the government can do. And it also is a safety aspect as well because there’s less persons interacting with the restaurants and the environment, and with the consumers, there’s a one to one.

“So, there’s a lot of protocols that can easily be adhered to. Rather than multiple persons being congregated or trying to get food at a single point, [there would be] just a restaurant owner dealing with a driver and the driver to their customers. That’s a much simpler process,” Carter added.

Current restrictions including the 6pm-5am curfew are set to remain in place until at least March 15.

Antigua and Barbuda has to date recorded 646 cases of the virus since the outbreak of the pandemic, with 399 of them active.

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