A group of restaurants is heading to court to force the government to allow their patrons to drink alcohol with their meals. 

Led by Cape Town-based Chefs Warehouse restaurants‚ the group said in court papers filed on Wednesday it wanted the matter to be heard on an urgent basis on Tuesday morning‚ or as soon as possible thereafter.

According to the group‚ opening up the industry to sell food but not alcoholic beverages is like telling a swimming instructor she can reopen her business but her learners are not allowed to swim in the pool.

As part of the easing of level 3 lockdown regulations, restaurants are now allowed to serve sit-in customers, but are not allowed to serve alcohol with the meals. 

The group wants “all restaurants in possession of a valid liquor licence” to be allowed to serve alcohol with meals to their patrons on-site‚ subject to the conditions of their liquor licence and all other applicable laws.

They also want “the social-distancing prescribed requirement of 1.5m between all patrons in the restaurant … declared to specifically exclude patrons voluntarily deciding to sit at the same table‚ sharing it”‚ according to the founding affidavit.

For three months of lockdown — April‚ May and June — restaurants could not trade at all (except for deliveries and takeaways) and had no income‚ but still had substantial expenses and suppliers to pay.

“The combination of the absurd distancing application at shared tables and the ban on the serving of alcohol with meals for all practical purposes makes it impossible for restaurants to actually open and trade in a manner where they can expect to survive financially — and will make the eating-out experience so absurd and unpleasant that nobody would actually want to do it‚” the group argues in court papers.

“In a restaurant where there are no or too few guests‚ the business goes down.”

The case is brought against co-operative governance & traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma‚ whose ministry is responsible for gazetting regulations according to the Disaster Management Act.

The group warned that if restaurants are not able to trade normally and these two “extremely restrictive” conditions remain in force — even just for the next week or two — an unprecedented wave of retrenchments would follow.

“Patrons normally enjoy a wine or beer with their meals in a restaurant‚ or far less often perhaps a whiskey or some other strong drink‚” the court papers say.

“Dining out is normally a relaxed and sophisticated and pleasant exercise. With all other protocols declared by the government in place‚ the mere fact of serving a glass of wine or beer with the meals cannot have any causal effect on promoting or preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

“The selling of alcoholic beverages in a restaurant makes out 70% of all restaurant sales. The profit margin on liquor sales are far higher than the very narrow profit margin on foods. Without liquor sales‚ restaurant simply cannot operate profitably and will have to close their doors and retrench their staff.”

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