I recently read a post on Cape Town magazine listing the new ‘highly rated’ restaurants that were launched in the past 12 months.  I counted 85 in total, of which I have only personally sampled 8!

The Western Cape (now rated as one of the world’s top food destinations) is regarded as heaven for adventurous culinary aficionados, and the competition between restaurants vying for a space of your wallet has increased dramatically in the past year. Although a little competition is always healthy to keep up the high standards of food service that we have cultivated in Cape Town, it also becomes a factor in keeping the local population enticed during the months where tourists are noticeably absent. Hence to introduction of winter specials – the talk of the town between June and September.

Although we all think winter specials are the bomb, consider the cost of food that chefs and owners are putting out there to lure business clientele. I did a quick cost calculation of the actual ingredients at a number restaurants running specials, and I could not believe that anyone could even start creating the same dish at home at same price.  How then do restaurants make their money from running winter specials? Actually, they don’t…

Consider some continental restaurants such as Greece, Spain or even France, where they shut down completely for the winter season.  Over there it’s an accepted norm, and people make do with creating their own culinary delights at home.  They then open to summer trade and a flood of tourists, where they make enough money to be able to close for winter the next year. I believe that most Cape Town restaurants fail because they don’t do exactly that – keep a kitty for the lean months.

In Cape Town, we’ve become an ‘eat-out’ culture, and a growing one at that, so the demand for restaurants to stay open is prevalent.  On top of this, any restaurant closing down for winter has the arduous task of ‘restarting’ again and attracting clientele for the season, often facing the assumption that the restaurant may have closed for good, a common occurrence in the city. Most restaurants have permanent staff that cannot find other work in a primarily tourist destination, so we have to keep them employed despite a drain on profitability during winter.  There is no other option, other than firing and re-hiring again at the beginning of the season – a strategy a few unscrupulous restaurateurs actually do.

Profitability is the key here. Winter specials are run mostly to keep the doors open, to keep a good relationship with suppliers who supported them during the summer months, keep good staff on the books and mostly, to keep local clientele. Attracting people through low prices and keeping suppliers happy is really the only option. Admittedly, the booze prices don’t change, as some money needs to be made.

So, if you’re thinking that you’re getting a good deal at a particular restaurant during the winter, make sure that you also support them during the summer months.  Don’t become like many fickle Capetonians who just support restaurants during their ‘special’ moments and hang out at all the new places just to be seen.  Support local during hard times. Those are the places to be seen.