With many restaurants finally reopening next week, in the face of severe financial hardship (see the cover story in this week’s edition), it is time for us local residents who can afford to enjoy a meal out to do what we can to help.
In a seasonal tourism destination such as the Algarve, restaurants rely on the summer months to make enough money to enable them to trade a loss during the winter months. So this pandemic could not have come at a worse time. Just as many of them were getting ready to open for the season back in March, they were forced to close. And now, when reopening, social distancing measures mean that they are limited to a fraction of the usual number of customers they can serve.
We all want our favourite restaurants to survive, so what can we do as customers to support them?
One idea I have is that they should all be implementing a minimum charge policy – “consumo mínimo” – something that is totally legal here in Portugal for any establishment as long as it is clearly advertised at the door.
The minimum charge could be based on the menu cost of the cheapest starter, main course, pudding and a half bottle of house wine per person. Let’s assume this comes to €25 in an average mid-range restaurant.
And then, guests should be advised that they cannot hog the table for the whole evening. These restaurants will need to sell the few tables they have available at least twice if they are to have any hope of covering their costs.
The new regulations stipulate that customers must book a table in advance of arriving at the restaurant, so, at that time, they should be advised of the minimum charge and the amount of time they can keep the table for; 90 minutes is quite reasonable. This time limit is something that any of us used to booking restaurant tables in busy cities such as London is very used to. And, of course, the time limit is always flexible if the restaurant does not actually need the table back.
If we all show some respect and support, then at least the restaurants we know and love (those that offer us consistent quality and what we perceive to be value for money) have a better chance of surviving.