Many of Cayman’s restaurants are preparing to shut down for several weeks during September – not just to refurbish but because it’s simply not worth it financially to remain open.
Strolling around Cayman in September may not be the wisest thing to do with the humidity at its fiercest, but doing so will reveal many restaurants shuttered.
This phenomenon, explained Markus Mueri, restaurant representative of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, has developed due to the month being traditionally the softest in terms of tourist arrivals.
“The fundamental concept is that September and October seem to be the slowest time for the Cayman Islands. Occupancy is down. So if your business is depending more on tourism as certain restaurants are – maybe you make 50 per cent of your money from tourists – for example, it isn’t worth opening.
“You would lose money in September and October begins slowly. So people started to say, ‘You know what, let’s send everybody on vacation at the same time and when they all come back we will have a fresh start.” There is a distinct reason behind the judiciously-timed temporary closure of restaurants, continued Mueri, and that is due to these months historically being the height of hurricane season.
“What is also very interesting is that the Island usually does extremely well in July and August. But what happens when there is a first hurricane threat is that reservations are cancelled, people change plans and occupancy rates at hotels plummet down to around 40 per cent.
“It is understandable; why would you want to book a vacation when there is a potential hurricane coming? You would choose a different location. Five years ago it happened three years in the row, around 25 August there was a threat then a couple of times there was almost an evacuation of the Island. It never came to us, God bless us, but it takes a very long time to get occupancy back up again. So a lot of restaurants said, let’s close it down as there’s no reason to keep open then we’ll come back for a fresh start,” he said.
Preparing for high season
The closure allows restaurant managers to budget for a ‘dead month’ in their yearly plans, with August generally being a relatively decent period in terms of business – weather permitting.
“People love to come down here but as soon as one hurricane is in the region everybody runs away,” he reiterated.
It allows business owners several weeks to repaint and refurbish their premises, said Mueri, who also noted that the blackout period gave an opportunity to reflect and regroup in terms of menus and so on.
“We always plan in this time; get the Christmas menus ready, prepare everything for a new start-up for the high season, in mid-October. You fix things up and start working on things so in October we come fresh with ideas, new menus and gear up for holiday season.
“In August a lot of families are out on vacation with their children so a lot of people leave to take their kids to Europe and the United States. They come back in late August but then are busy with family and so on but in October [business] is slowly coming back again. November is usually the big comeback month.”
Mueri said that the restaurant industry is experiencing a positive period in comparison to other years and that there are moves being made to further strengthen the sector for the new season.
“In the Cayman Islands Tourism Association we are now talking about how we can boost October. We have a Restaurant Week planned and there are discussions about a lot of different ways we can make it better for the restaurants and the hospitality industry overall,” he revealed.