Hospitality expert shares strategies on how to make restaurants in SA viable for the future

Patrons sitting at a restaurant as there are glimmers of hope are starting to appear in the hospitality industry. Picture: Unsplash

Patrons sitting at a restaurant as there are glimmers of hope are starting to appear in the hospitality industry. Picture: Unsplash

Published Apr 8, 2024


South Africa’s hospitality sector is facing fierce competition with businesses vying for the attention of the public.

The next few years will see established businesses iterating or pivoting to align with new trends in travel and consumer behaviour says Kevan Govender, the Regional Investment Manager at Business Partners Limited, who was commenting on the future of the hospitality industry and whether owning a restaurant is still a viable business in South Africa.

According to Govender, although the local hospitality industry is still recovering from the effects of the Covid pandemic and the losses incurred during the lockdown, there is still a glimmer of hope as the research shows.

Now is also the right time for aspiring restaurant business owners to plant the seeds for future success.

“There is no question about the fact that many of the country’s leading tourism, travel-related and hospitality businesses are up against some tough circumstances.

“But businesses that can succeed in repositioning themselves to meet the demands of an evolving market, are set to reap significant rewards and ultimately, build stronger, more resilient businesses,” says Govender.

The regional investment manager also says that certain regions within South Africa are poised for success and represent unmissable opportunities for avid entrepreneurs to take up the challenge.

“Cape Town, for example, was recently dubbed the second-best city in the world to live in and visit, according to Time Out’s survey of 50 cities worldwide. In regions such as Cape Town, certain hospitality sub-sectors always seem to come out on top.

“However, it is not only culinary capitals that will reap the rewards as there is space for traditional South African food spaces, ranging from Vilakazi Street in Soweto to Durban’s Florida Road, to succeed,“ says Govender.

Offering his tips for aspiring and existing restauranteurs, Govender highlights that in a price-sensitive market, customers are constantly seeking the best bang for their buck. However, this doesn't mean that they are willing to compromise on quality.

“As such, it’s essential for entrepreneurs and business owners in the industry to offer value-driven menus featuring fresh, locally sourced ingredients and flavourful dishes that resonate with their target audience.

“Providing generous portion sizes and affordable meal options can also enhance perceived value, reputation and overall value,” says the regional investment manager.

Govender also says that positive customer experiences are non-negotiable for restaurants that hope to see long-term success. Therefore, it is high time that business owners deliver exceptional and uncompromising customer service to retain existing customers and attract new ones.

He said this aligns with the findings of the 2023 Hotel and Hospitality Industry Confidence Index, which concluded that customer engagement is critical to growth.

“In line with this, restaurant staff need to receive adequate training on how to provide a consistently excellent, personalised level of service by anticipating customer needs and resolving issues promptly and professionally.

“Feedback should also be encouraged by actively engaging with customers through social media, surveys, and loyalty programmes to demonstrate that their opinions are valued and taken into consideration,” says Govender.

And, finally, Govender reiterates that the tide of digitalisation is having a significant impact on the restaurant industry. The most recent South African restaurant industry report shows that telephone bookings declined significantly, while online bookings almost doubled in 2022.

“It’s now more important than ever, to focus on the digital capabilities of new and existing establishments and build user interfaces that are easy to use, highly efficient and built to last for the long haul.

“Restaurants that have robust digital booking systems will undoubtedly reap positive results in an era where more and more customers are prioritising aspects like convenience and accessibility,” says Govender.