Grace Harding takes no prisoners in this candid interview, in which she builds on the campaign launched by her recent open letter to landlords, in which she explained why instead of trying to recover lost rent, they should share the burden of the lockdown. imposed on hundreds of thousands of SA employees. sit-down restaurants. Ocean Basket’s CEO is also hard at work building The Restaurant Collective to present a united front to landlords and secure better deals with its members, which include thousands of food service entrepreneurs. She spoke with BizNews’ Alec Hogg.

Grace Harding about her restaurant team

During COVID, we created Restaurant Collective and I just spearheaded an amazing brand. But my role as a restaurant team leader is really about bringing the restaurant industry together and building a team. And it was really a platform to talk to landlords because I realized that there are so many of us, some of us are big groups, some of us are independent like Forti. We are struggling and there is a lot of speculation. I met Leon from Redefine online. It was a great meeting. And I realize that the assumption I made, that there are assumptions, was real. Therefore, there were questions from both sides. For example, one of his colleagues said, well, you know, you really expect a lot from us, but what are you doing for your franchisees? And I realized, well, they know we haven’t collected royalties for almost a year. We have not asked for these fees to be returned to us. And I think it’s all about the conversation. I mean we read all over the world.

About the Zimbabwean problem

There have been rumors for over three years that they may not be reviewing Zimbabwean visas. Only Zimbabweans work in the hospitality industry, which is not true, but there are many Zimbabweans because they are inclined towards hospitality. The restaurant industry is just trying to fight to get back on its feet, knocks will come. And we must unite, we must be active. That’s the point. We must be proactive. And it’s not about fighting people: it’s about saying we can’t accept what’s happening to us and we want to talk to you so we can reframe it.

On whether franchisees return to normal work

We had a good July. We really did. We had a very good July. It’s amazing, I mean it’s almost impossible to predict what’s going on in this country. You know you’re going to have a good month. There were all these loads, but it was a good July. What I’m trying to change with Restaurant Collective is that we become a little bit more of a mindful industry where we plan more. But the way it works, if things are terrible today, I’m in a really bad mood. And if it’s better, I feel a little better. My phone hasn’t stopped ringing in the midst of Covid from all the restaurateurs because we stood up and said, OK, we’re going to help you and we’re not going to lobby. We conducted seminars online. We have distributed standard operating instructions to all restaurants. And as soon as they started breathing, they stopped calling. So I have a long journey ahead of me and I’m really determined because the restaurant industry is powerful and important to our economy and the lives of staff need to be improved. It’s hard work and the pay is low, and we have to find a way to make their lives better. We have to do it.

On matters of covid and landlords

Covid has kind of turned off the life support machine, but the suffering is happening now because many landlords are demanding we pay. One example I gave is where the landlord wants to pay off at R180,000 a month. But we don’t know where to get it from. And we just have to leave this form. That’s what you just have to do. So we’ll make a plan, because it’s all part of the transformation, right? So, yes, we helped. I was in Cape Town yesterday and it’s important to go to restaurants because you can’t run a business, you know, just with BI tools and Excel spreadsheets. You have to go touch it and feel it. And I can really see that I was a little off the table. So okay, the chairs are a little bit broken and it’s getting difficult because, you know, yelling at the franchisee and saying, fix the chair, spend 5000 rand, you know, fix all these things. Nor were they people who invested and saved. They spent money during COVID. Therefore, many of them kept all their employees. They paid them money. They gave them cereal. The real pain of Covid is being felt now.

On what will happen to the restaurant sector in South Africa after 2024

The sector is still growing. Yes, lame. But first of all, we don’t know how many restaurants closed during Covid because there is no data, and then we don’t know how many reopened. But if we use the famous cutting that many have rediscovered, it will have a big impact. I mean, I don’t want to guess the numbers, but you’re going to see real, real growth, because if the growth is there now, imagine the economy will still recover. Imagine if we can control electricity. Imagine if we could fix basic things. The things that make the restaurant industry work are very, very simple things. But of course the influence on these basic things goes back to the CEO of our country and how it will be run.

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