As Portugal prepares to go to the polls on October 4, the mood behind the serving hatch will be a key test of whether Portuguese are ready to complete the austerity cure prescribed by centre right Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho. Sonia Legg reports
Food is almost a religion in Portugal and the restaurant sector employs a large chunk of the workforce. It was also one of the industries hardest hit by austerity after the country was forced to seek an EU bailout. For restaurant manager Jorge Costa it meant firing three of his staff, leaving just him and a chef. (SOUNDBITE) (Portuguese) RESTAURANT "LEITARIA ANUNCIADA" MANAGER, JORGE COSTA, SAYING: "It was very, very difficult, because we found ourselves without customers. We had a substantial rise in costs, taxes and materials and we were caught unaware without any safeguard." A 10 per cent rise in sales tax to 23 per cent was one of the measures introduced three years ago to plug the soaring budget deficit. As a result ten thousand restaurants closed - that's 12 percent of all eateries. SOUNDBITE) (English) RUBRO CO-OWNER, LUIS MORAIS PEREIRA, SAYING: "What we did was to reformulate our menu on the side of the consumer to offer them more competitive alternatives and also lowering their average ticket price." Restaurants generate 5 percent of Portugal's GDP. And winning the vote of owners like Luis could make all the difference in Portugal's election. Opposition socialists are promising to reverse tax hikes. But the current government has no such plans even though the country is now out of recession. It hopes to convince voters the medicine was worth swallowing. Either way Luis has big plans - he's opening two new restaurants next year to take advantage of growing tourism numbers.