Czech restaurants fear for the future amid new Covid restrictions

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 Just hours after a state of emergency was reintroduced in the Czech Republic to help fight the worsening coronavirus epidemic, people from the restaurant business took to the streets to protest against measures which they say are devastating their livelihood. According to fresh data released by the Association of Hotels and Restaurants the year-on-year decline in public catering revenues could reach 60 billion crowns.

Chefs, waiters and bartenders banged on their pots and pans chanting “enough is enough” as they marched through Prague on Monday to voice their opposition to the latest restrictive measures which have forced them to close at 10 pm and seat no more than six diners at one table. The route of their protest through the city centre and Old Town to the Office of the Government led them past restaurants and cafes that would normally have been crowded with locals and tourists. Today diners are scarce and people in the business fear there is worse to come.

Photo: ČTK/AP/Petr David Josek

According to an analysis by the agency Data Servis , revenues in the food catering sector - hotels, restaurants and cafés - fell by  40 billion crowns from January to August compared to the same period last year. And predictions say the annual decline in revenues could reach 60 billion crowns, possibly 80 billion in the event of a worst case coronavirus scenario.

Restaurant owner Martin Jenka says he fears that the deepening crisis could once again lead to the closure of pubs and restaurants.

“Of course I’m worried. Restaurants are first in line to take a hit, at least the government says that’s where the epidemiological risk is highest. So I watch the situation every day and we are bracing for the worst. We have to consider carefully whether to stock up or not.”

A waiter from a popular restaurant in the centre of Litvinov says it is not only the government imposed restrictions that are hurting business, but people’s fear of infection.

Photo: ČTK/AP/Petr David Josek

“People are cancelling bigger parties and events that they made reservations for six months ago. That is hitting us quite hard. I am talking about company events and family gatherings of twenty to thirty people. We would be able to accommodate them and comply with the regulations by adding tables, but they are simply afraid to come.”

Lubos Kastner from the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises in Gastronomy says the problems have been dragging for too long and the uncertainty about the future is killing the business.

“You know, we have been living with Covid for seven months now. Seven months of media reports that are hurting us and changing people’s behaviour. A sector that employs 150,000 people is slowly bleeding to death and all of these people are living in uncertainty as to what the future will bring.”

Restaurant owners are now calling for a national aid plan in support of the sector – including a lower VAT on take-away food and drinks and measures that will help them to survive even once the crisis is over.