It wouldn’t be surprising if in the next few weeks mall owners and franchise restaurant chains set up their own pity party.
Both need the free and easy movement of people to generate a decent income, and both have been denied this as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown.
The impact of the hard lockdown and the restriction on how many people could be in their premises at any time hurt them. This can be seen in Hyprop’s interim results for the six months to end December, with net operating profit dropping from R679.1 million to R408.2 million.
There was a similar story at Vukile Property Fund, which in its latest half-year to end September saw headline earnings slide to 27.99c a share from 82.99c a share.
It’s the same for restaurant chains Spur and Famous Brands. Spur’s total restaurant sales declined 29.5% to R2.9 billion in the six months to December 2020, while Famous Brands expects sales to drop 28.6% for the year to end-February.
Nowhere to go
The restaurant chains have made some efforts to sell takeaway meals, but this has done little to offset the losses from people coming in to sit down for a meal.
Mall owners are in the same boat, despite saying that people’s visits are shorter but they are spending more.
The unsaid thing about going to the mall and going to a restaurant is not that people need something buy – it’s that they need someplace to go.
In other words, people need to get out of the house and going to the mall gives them an excuse to do just that.
Take going to a family-friendly restaurant for instance. It may look like families are going out for some overpriced burgers just to avoid cleaning the dishes. What’s really happening is that the parents are taking a break while the children are let loose in a play area.
This family-friendly facility is more than a restaurant, it’s also playing the part of a daycare facility.
I have a cunning plan…
Sadly, the lockdown has ended this regular excursion. But has it?
Aside from discussing rent relief, maybe the malls and the restaurant chains should consider doing some business development along the lines of setting up ‘roadhouses’ in mall parking lots.
Hear me out.
Back in the day, roadhouses used to be a staple in the lives of many South Africans. It was not uncommon to have families pull up in a designated parking area and be served by a waiter on rollerskates.
Roadhouses have become something of a rarity in SA.
Though there are still well-known establishments – such the Wembley Roadhouse in Athlone, Cape Town and the Kota Joe chain in Gauteng – they are now few and far between.
At a time when Covid-19 restrictions are limiting how people are getting around, offering a restaurant service to people in their cars seems like a business model whose time has come – again.
Having a carpark roadhouse could work out out well for shopping centres, as it will increase the amount of time people hang around there. If they play their cards right, they could ‘white label’ the roadhouse format and offer it to all the restaurants in their mall.
It also offers a way for malls to get some kind of return on the dead assets that are parking lots.
The restaurants gain in that they win back some of the sit-down markets they lost as a result of the restrictions. They also benefit by reducing their dependence on meal delivery platforms. And they gain in the number of customers they are able to serve being limited only to the number of parking lots available.
It will certainly work out better for restaurant staff, who have had to endure shorter shifts and smaller tips.
And customers will most certainly gain as they will have an excuse to leave their homes. Even if it largely limits them to staying in their cars.