For the catering industry, as for so many others, it is no exaggeration to say that the last 18 months have been among the most challenging ever faced. Restaurants were some of the first to be shut down when COVID-19 struck, and they have endured a cycle of closures and openings ever since. And as if that wasn’t enough, when open, they have been subject to strict restrictions on capacity, opening hours and table sizes.
But even beyond that, the catering sector has battled some more. Most challenging of all, perhaps, has been an unprecedented staffing crisis largely driven by an exodus of foreign workers from the island during the pandemic. According to The Malta Chamber, more than three-quarters of businesses across the board have had difficulties finding employees in recent months, and restaurants have reported having to scale their operations back, or even shut entirely, as a consequence.
And yet, it has not been entirely doom and gloom. After the most recent reopening earlier this year, restaurants saw high demand almost immediately from diners starved of the opportunity to eat out by months of quasi-lockdown and, almost paradoxically, the number of new eateries appears to have increased.
“We have definitely seen a surge in restaurant guests all over the island in recent months,” says Chef Andrew Borg, in comments featured in the Autumn edition of Business Now magazine, the sister publication to BusinessNow.mt.
“Since many people are still reluctant to travel, they are visiting local hotels and restaurants instead. One trend that is apparent is that people are going out less but spending more. Nowadays, guests are after quality; they’re being more and more careful where to spend their money and which hotels and restaurants to visit, so there’s been a shift from mass market to more lucrative options.”
Mr Borg believes that supporting this shift in preferences, particularly on a touristic level, is key to helping restaurants on the long road to recovery that lies ahead. “The authorities need to invest money to promote premium tourism. By improving our tourist product, we can attract tourists that do not come here just for our beaches, but who want to experience the rest of what Malta can deliver. We must also invest more locally: recent months have shown the importance of internal tourism, which was crucial for the survival of the local hospitality industry.”
This forms part of a wider feature on the future of Malta’s catering sector, first carried in the Autumn edition of Business Now magazine, the sister publication to BusinessNow.mt
Chef Andrew Borg / Photo by Bernard Polidano
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