Proprietors in the capital city and at Long Circular Mall, St James, reported a “slow start” yesterday on reopening for dining-in under relaxed COVID-19 rules.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley gave the green light for restaurants and bars to resume serving patrons in-house on Saturday.
The majority of business people blamed the skeletal influx of customers on the lack of employment during the COVID-19 lockdown. They also said people who have returned to work have not yet collected a salary or wages, and it has diminished their spending power, and their ability to purchase food and drink.
Owners, staff and customers complained vehemently about the non-payment of Salary Relief Grants, valued at $1,500.
Red band maxi-taxi owner Jason Cumberbatch, who plies a 25-seater, said: “Yes. They said 100 per cent. But I have been running the route since 6 a.m. No big difference. I did not have a full trip. People have not yet returned to work. They don’t have any money. People are funny. Watching each other cokey-eyed. They don’t want to sit too closely.”
‘Not enough business to cover overheads’
At Long Circular Mall, food stations were groaning with Arabic, Creole and Indian dishes. Servers wore masks and hair nets, as they smiled sweetly waiting for the lunchtime crowds, which never appeared. Tables and chairs were laid out for in-house dining, but just a sprinkling of customers took advantage of the mall’s hospitality. The food court looked inviting and immaculately clean.
Surveying the mall over a steaming bowl of vegetable soup, businessman and social commentator Joseph Berment-McDowald said: “I don’t see enough business to pay overheads. People have to make a drastic change. Otherwise they can’t be in the game. I don’t think they can pay staff, rent and all their expenses. I don’t expect they are getting more than just a contribution to their direct overheads. I am afraid the demand would not match up to the level of business that was there before. It will impact employment negatively. There is the dire need for a new recovery plan.”
At Dairy Queen ice-cream shop, attendants Sheniece Thomas and Leslie Ann Charles said they had opened from 11 a.m. By 2 p.m., they had served about 16 customers.
Thomas said: “People are coming. It will pick up. Saturday had better sales. We made more than $6,000.”
At Royal Castle outlet, on Independence Square, the security guard said there was “small turnout” of in-house diners. Normally, people occupy all the tables, and there are long queues for chicken and its tasty pepper sauce. But about eight people had taken advantage of the in-house dining.
An adamant security guard said: “If you don’t have a mask, we are not letting you in. You have to sanitise whether you are going to the Lotto booth or the restaurant. We don’t have any set of activity going on like before. People have to comply with the 25-number rule.”
At neighbouring Church’s Chicken, manager Jenny Clarke said: “It’s one in, and one out. We have good sales for takeaway. We noticed people are not staying six feet apart. So we go to them, and, politely tell them to spread out. We have not noticed a large number of in-house diners. But the in-house dining is just starting back. Some of the chairs are still stacked on the tables.”
‘No crowded tables’
At Excellent City Centre, Frederick Street, Amanda’s Grill proprietor Natasha Pagwandas said: “It’s empty. No crowded tables. People have now started to return to work. It’s slow.”
Moving to the much anticipated salary relief grant, Pagwandas said: “I applied for it. My staff of eight applied. Only one employee got it. We have not yet received it. We need all the help we can to get back on our feet.”
At the Us One Sports Bar, at Capital Plaza, proprietor Phillip Cox, said: “Slow start. This is the first big group of five I have had for the day. About 15 people came by since I opened. My staff and I applied for the Salary Relief Grant. We have not yet received it.”
Cox added: “I think a soft loan would help us. I might need about $50,000 to help. The State should not charge interest. We are hoping we can get a rent reduction. It’s tough. It’s not easy for us.”
Cox also said patrons were unsure if business had resumed.
He said: “People popped by just to make sure we were back out. Today, I will serve the cutters. I would start taking orders for the fish ham.”
Regular Michael Smith said: “I am just happy to be among friends. We are catching up. We belong to Down With Size fitness troupe.” Seated in the bar’s verandah, was a lone Chaguanas huckster Alex Bharat, who said “I can only afford one beer.”
Reproduced from the Trinidad Express