Fewer guests at Czech restaurants than before the pandemic

The winter low season is over, but restaurant owners say their clientele has been slow to return, although many have already opened their outdoor gardens and terraces to entice passers-by. According to the company SaltPay, which supplies restaurants with cash register systems, revenue in the first three months of this year has risen by less than half compared to last year – and this despite the fact that in the same period last year, restaurants were closed due to coronavirus restrictions and it was only possible to get food from a take-out window.

Prague restaurant manager Tomáš has space for 60 guests to dine in his restaurant’s garden, but at the moment the seats are completely empty.

“It’s mostly due to the weather, I hope, and secondly the situation is also still not where we would like it to be.”

He says that the situation is not even worth comparing to pre-Covid times, and the full tables and busy hubbub of that period are not coming back.

“I wouldn’t even compare it with the pre-Covid era anymore because that time is clearly not coming back, or maybe only after a few years. There are, of course, far fewer guests. Evidently people don’t want to spend as much money as before, because they don’t know what to expect. They still haven’t received their gas and electricity bills, the price of groceries is higher, and they are simply thinking more about money.”

Tomáš says that these rising costs also had to be reflected in his restaurant’s prices, but they were afraid to raise them too much, fearing further losses.

“We’ve raised prices by 5-10% at most. I think most restaurant owners are afraid to raise prices any more than that, because otherwise guests might not come at all. Basically, we’re paying the bills ourselves.”

Illustrative photo: Michaela Danelová,  Czech Radio

In another restaurant with an outdoor terrace in Prague 2, the seats are only half full. Furthermore, of the guests that do come, most are from abroad.

“Here we get mainly foreigners, a lot of them – they’re coming back already. They’re from all over – most are from Germany I would say, but we also get people from Mexico, Spain, Italy.”

According to waitress Hana, Czechs come mainly for the cheaper lunch menu, since diners also have to pay more for food at this restaurant now compared to last year.

“Of course, we had to raise prices slightly, due to energy costs and rising food prices – of course.”

The evidence for the reduction in guest numbers is not merely anecdotal – data from SaltPay, a company supplying restaurants with POS systems, confirms that there are still fewer customers than before the pandemic.

Jana Kohoutová, spokeswoman for Storyous, a Czech startup which was acquired by the British SaltPay in 2021, says that the highest sales so far this year were on the weekend of March 25-27, when the most customers came to restaurants since the beginning of the year.

“Unfortunately, sales growth is hindered by rising inflation. The price of food, energy, and other goods and services is rising – so restaurants also have to raise prices. But it doesn’t mean they earn more.”

With the risk of inflation continuing to rise in the coming months, it looks likely that for now, both restaurants and customers will continue to have to tighten their purse strings.