Owners of two establishments licensed as snack bars in Saqqajja Hill, Rabat, have warned that the latest COVID-19 restrictions are unfair on their businesses.
“It’s normal for us to slow down a bit in November but we’re usually full during the weekend,” Tat-Taraġ wine bar and bistro owner Rudolf Grima told Lovin Malta.
“However, everyone cancelled their appointments on Friday because of the new restrictions and we only had a handful of people yesterday. I tried to offer people non-alcoholic wine but it didn’t go down well.”
As per the restrictions, establishments licensed as bars must close down entirely, those licensed as snack bars must close down at 11pm and cannot sell alcohol, while those licensed as restaurants can remain open.
However, the ‘snack bar’ category encompasses a wide range of catering establishments, including bistros, fast food joints, wine bars and even fine dining restaurants.
Grima said his business was already licensed as a snack bar when he took over and neither he, nor the Malta Tourism Authority, ever saw any reason to change it.
“I’ve been inspected seven times in the last month and a half and I was always found to be compliant with the COVID-19 protocols, which obliged me to reduce my indoor capacity from 50 to 28 people.”
“I understand this is a health issue and if restaurants are causing a problem then we should be closed down, but it doesn’t make sense to tell snack bar owners not to offer alcohol and to close at 11pm but allow restaurants to offer alcohol and remain open until later. Does the virus only choose to enter snack bars?”
He added that a nearby restaurant decided to shut down entirely in light of these new restrictions.
Robert Cassar, owner of the Michelin Guide starred restaurant Root 81, similarly said the building’s proprietor had licensed it as a snack bar and urged the MTA to give him a restaurant license itself.
“When I inquired with the MTA, they told me permits are currently frozen,” he said. “This isn’t a question of money, it’s about arranging things. I operate as a restaurateur but I’m licensed as a snack bar owner.”
“I understand we need to reduce COVID-19 cases and in fact I closed down a week earlier than I was ordered to last March because I have vulnerable relatives and consider health to be a priority.”
“However, people are currently calling up a restaurant featured on the Michelin Guide and we have to tell them we can’t serve wine. People want a certain dining experience when they eat out and that includes alcohol.”
The Malta Tourism Authority offers three classes of restaurant licenses, two classes of snack bar licenses and two classes of bar licenses, and different requirements must be met to obtain each license.
For example, first class snack bars and bars must provide decaffeinated coffee while second class ones need only provide coffee and tea. Bars and restaurants of all three classes must have an espresso coffee machine.
All restaurants must have a wine list with local and foreign wine, while first class snack bars must offer at least five brands of beer and 15 brans of spirit and second class snack bars must offer at least three brands of beet and five brands of spirit.