Israel’s restaurant industry will take ‘3 to 5 years’ to recover

Nearly a third of restaurants and cafés have shut down for good, while those remaining struggle to recruit staff.

Patrons at a restaurant in Tel Aviv, Israel. March 7, 2021. (photo credit: RAYMOND CRYSTAL/THE MEDIA LINE)
Patrons at a restaurant in Tel Aviv, Israel. March 7, 2021.
(photo credit: RAYMOND CRYSTAL/THE MEDIA LINE)
A taste of normalcy has returned to Israel following a year of on-and-off lockdowns and sweeping health restrictions.
With more than half of all Israelis having received at least one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, thousands of cafés and restaurants across the country reopened to diners for the first time since September.
While many cafés and restaurants welcomed eager patrons on Sunday, a leading industry expert has warned that it could take the sector years to fully recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The restaurant industry is so important in Israel and plays such a big part of Israeli life and tourism[,] so it’s just a shame,” Tomer Moore, CEO of the Restaurateurs Stronger Together Association, told The Media Line.
“It’s going to take a few years — estimation is between three and five years — to get the industry back to what it was,” he said.
Tomer Moore, CEO of the Restaurateurs Stronger Together Association, March 7, 2021. (Credit: RAYMOND CRYSTAL/THE MEDIA LINE)Tomer Moore, CEO of the Restaurateurs Stronger Together Association, March 7, 2021. (Credit: RAYMOND CRYSTAL/THE MEDIA LINE)
Nearly a third of Israel’s restaurants and cafés — 4,000 out of 14,000, to be precise — have not survived the economic hardships of the past year and will remain closed for good, Moore revealed. At the moment, 6,000 are open on a delivery or takeout basis. A further 2,000 eateries are planning to reopen only after the Passover holiday and the remaining 2,000 venues are offering partial dine-in service.
Israel is relying on COVID-19 passports — so-called green passes — to safely reopen much of its economy. The Health Ministry issues the passes only to those who are fully inoculated.
Under the new guidelines, green pass holders are allowed to sit indoors at restaurants and cafés as long as social distancing is maintained. Eating and drinking outside on terraces does not require proof of vaccination.
Since most of their staff was laid off at the start of the pandemic, restaurant owners are now struggling to find workers to fill the gap. Many, on paid government leave since the pandemic forced their workplace to close down, have decided not to go back to work for now. Government COVID-19 unemployment benefits are slated to run out at the end of June.
“From an industry that [employed] over 200,000 bartenders, waiters, cooks, chefs and staff [members] – at the moment we’re at around 50,000 workers,” Moore affirmed. “Getting 150,000 workers back to the industry is very hard.”
A lot of changes are in the pipeline for the food and hospitality industries, he added, in the form of an increased emphasis on self-service and simple grab-and-go menus.
Patrons at a restaurant in Tel Aviv, Israel. March 7, 2021. (Credit: RAYMOND CRYSTAL/THE MEDIA LINE)Patrons at a restaurant in Tel Aviv, Israel. March 7, 2021. (Credit: RAYMOND CRYSTAL/THE MEDIA LINE)
The ever-changing restrictions and last-minute decision-making in the halls of government have also proven to be major obstacles for the industry’s recovery. Restaurant owners only received a full list of health guidelines a few hours ahead of Sunday’s nationwide reopening, for instance.
“Whoever thinks you can just snap your fingers and open a restaurant, well it doesn’t work that way,” Moore asserted. “I think the [government] kind of disrespected us.”
Aside from concerns that lockdown restrictions could be reimposed at a moment’s notice, some Israelis also remain uncomfortable with the new relaxed guidelines.
“I’d sit outside at a restaurant[,] but it’s too soon to sit indoors,” a hospital worker named Ofir said to The Media Line.
In addition to bars and cafés, Tel Aviv, also known as the city that never sleeps, is working on resuscitating its famous nightlife.
Over the weekend the municipality hosted a series of open-air concerts at the newly renovated Bloomfield Stadium in Jaffa. Concertgoers were required to present their vaccine passports at the entrance and sit in allocated seats to ensure social distancing.
“We had two sold-out shows within 15 minutes,” Eytan Schwartz, spokesperson at the Tel Aviv-Yafo municipality, told The Media Line. “People are very eager to come and have a good time.”
Five hundred green pass holders were allowed into the 30,000-seat stadium on Sunday to watch 1980s Israeli pop icon Yardena Arazi perform. The small audience did not dampen the mood, however, as concertgoers stood up and danced to many of Arazi’s nostalgic hits.
Israeli pop icon Yardena Arazi performs in Jaffa, Israel in front of a fully inoculated audience, March 7, 2021. (Credit: RAYMOND CRYSTAL/THE MEDIA LINE)Israeli pop icon Yardena Arazi performs in Jaffa, Israel in front of a fully inoculated audience, March 7, 2021. (Credit: RAYMOND CRYSTAL/THE MEDIA LINE)
“We were locked indoors and didn’t go almost anywhere,” a concertgoer named Vered told The Media Line. “Today we had the opportunity to go to a show[,] and I’m so happy. It’s refreshing to see other people.”