The deadly COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to take a serious bite out of the local restaurant industry.
The latest business on the verge of closure is the popular De Outback Bar and Grill, and industry officials are concerned that the “extremely tough times” caused by the pandemic would result in the closure of several others in coming months.
In a notice to “supporters” over the weekend, operators of De Outback Bar and Grill said the six-and-a-half-year-old business would be closing at the end of August, citing rising costs and dwindling business.
“The past few months have been very trying as we have had to pay rent for the period of shut-down. On top of that, the various running costs still continue to mount up, with little to no revenue coming in,” said the notice.
“So due to the fall off in revenue at this time, rather than letting the cost become insurmountable, I must say with much regret and sadness that we will have to close our doors at the end of August 2020. We thank you all for your support over the years, but you can believe we’ll meet again. Don’t know where, don’t know when, but I’m sure we’ll meet again some sunny day,” said the owners in the notice.
Over the past several weeks the St James business has been operating temporary opening hours on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Representative of the local restaurant association – Dine South Barbados – Lisa Taylor told Barbados TODAY the situation was not unique to De Outback Bar and Grill, adding that “a few places” will shut shop in the coming weeks if conditions did not improve.
“I know of quite a few places that are going to find it very hard moving forward. Those are their words. Unfortunately, there will probably be many more that you will see closing,” said Taylor, who pointed out that most restaurants were now operating with only about 50 per cent of their staff.
Taylor, the owner of Naru and Miso restaurants, said her saving grace has been the “model of takeout”, explaining that many residents were still not comfortable dining in despite the easing of restrictions.
“So places that generally do very well are suffering because of that,” she said.
“We are kind of in the forefront of people’s mind as a takeout joint. I have to say thankfully, because that has truly saved us in this COVID-19 environment. Once we re-opened after the curfew and lock-down that business side of it for us, the transition from us to customers and customers to us, was actually quite easy. I am extremely thankful that we have been staying afloat because of that and we are really locally-driven,” she explained.
And while expressing cautious optimism about the future of her business, Taylor said based on conversations with other restaurant operators, especially those who had huge support from tourists in the past, they could not say the same.
“I know there are many restaurants that do well normally but they are tending to struggle right now because their business model is not that take-out type service, and it is not that they are not offering it but it is just people do not consider them a place they would have their meal at home from and that is creating a bit of an issue,” she explained.
She said for restaurant operators at this point it was about trying to get their bills paid and not about profit, adding that they were aware that “everybody is going through some sort of financial struggle at the moment and have cut him luxury”.
Taylor said she believes one of the ways local restaurants could ride out the pandemic was to “piggyback on each other and network”.
“The point right now is to try and support local however we can. And a lot of that is networking through each other and promoting each other . . . Together we can do so much more if we highlight each other one way or another,” explained Taylor, who conceptualised the Dine South initiative to promote restaurants and encourage more local dining.
After growing “tremendously” last year, that initiative was put on pause in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Taylor.
With the pandemic creating a complicated environment to navigate, she recommended that restaurateurs also use more social media to promote their businesses and offer deals.
Despite the challenges, Taylor said she remained optimistic and she hoped things would change in coming months “when we get back into some kind of winter season”.
“Hopefully then you get some kind of increase. Everybody’s fingers are crossed for that,” she said.