Allegrini 2018

Dates, doubts, uncertainties, fears (and some hope). But it’ s a bad start

At WineNews the point of view of Bruno Vespa, Maida Mercuri, Carlo Cracco, Matteo Baronetto, Antonia Klugmann and Mauro Rastelli

The return to normality, after almost two months of lockdown, will be slower than expected, especially for the catering industry, the sector that, more than any other, is paying, and will continue to pay for a long time. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte presented the Dpcm that should lead Italy towards the “Phase 2”, that of living with the Coronavirus, which will begin on May 4. More than a restart, especially in the first weeks, it will be a loosening of the lockdown, which will lead first of all to the gradual resumption of productive activities, while trade will have to be patient until May 18th and catering even until June 1st. A decision dictated by prudence, but which risks aggravating, even more, a situation in a sector which, after three months of closure and in a country that will have to deal with a tourist season practically lost, sees the abyss under its feet.
The Fipe talks about another 9 billion euros lost, which brings the total account to 34 billion euros since the beginning of the crisis, with 50,000 assets at risk of closure and 350. 000 people who could lose their jobs, and if in the past few days there has been a lively discussion about rules and economic support, but also about the very form that tomorrow’s catering industry will take, now the picture becomes a little darker, even in the readings of the protagonists of the catering world, at all levels, starting with that of Bruno Vespa, a journalist with one foot in the political debate and the other well established among the rows of his Apulian estate, who told WineNews about his concerns about the world of catering that, he recalls, “has already shown that it can do, with a big sacrifice, the spacing of places. They had already resigned themselves to this possibility, thinking they could reopen on May 18, but thinking of extending the closure until June is ruinous because it adds nothing to the security: for the doctors, legitimately, it could never reopen, but the responsibilities of politics are something else. If you identify and respect certain standards, it seems to me a ruinous choice, which also compromises the little spring tourism: what is the point of being able to move within your region without even finding an open restaurant? At this point, I believe that measures to support tourism-related activities should be accelerated and increased, even if it is not yet quantifiable. I think - adds Vespa - that it would be reasonable to anticipate the reopening, with due caution, of course, this is an unexpected blow for some activities, beyond my conflict of interest as a wine producer, to which I have always been close”.
The restaurateurs, on the other hand, receive requests, proposals, and signs, increasingly evident, of suffering, primarily economic. Especially in a city like Milan, which is just a few weeks has gone from being the nerve center of economic life to the epicenter of the pandemic. Here, among the historical voices of the Milanese restaurant industry, Maida Mercuri, at the helm of the “Al Pont de Fer”, the local symbol of the Navigli, stands out at WineNews: “We are holding on, we understand the situation, but the State’s absence hurts us, we are used to fighting, with the desire to make it, but today we are reduced to impotence and without any position taken towards us by the Government, and this hurts us. It’s better to get into debt than to fail, but especially here in Milan, the running costs are high. The only ones who can come out of it unscathed are the family-run businesses with their funds, but those who have employees are in a difficult situation. And often the 25,000 euros of the banks are not enough, whose access is in any case much more limited than we thought, tied to the rating and not to the guarantee of the State. We would need non-repayable loans, as in Germany, or longer repayment times, perhaps without having to submit 19 documents to apply for a loan of more than EUR 25,000. In 34 years, however, a crisis like this had never been seen before, the others gave hope, this leaves a long trail of fear, even for after, and I think both to young people who have recently opened and to those who are no longer old enough to think again. But what hurts the most - concludes Maida Mercuri - is the absence of the State, the lack of a chance and help to fight”.
To start again, after almost two months of stopping, it will take time, and in the difficulties, many people, in all probability, will be forced to lower the shutter, but it is also necessary to imagine how, not only when, to get back to the stove. Starting again, according to Carlo Cracco, from the issue of safety. “First of all, you have to swab the employees of the restaurants - he says in an interview with “La Repubblica” - because I have to assure those who come to me the maximum health safety as I assure them about food. We are talking about transparency, health. I understand that it can be complicated to organize. But what gives people more security than official certification? I have to guarantee who's coming to me for dinner. And if I don’t have any real licenses, will you take my word for it? And think of the employees who right now see their jobs, their futures at risk. I have to offer them guarantees.” For the future, concludes Chef Cracco, “it will take time, a lot. Nothing will be the same as before, it will take a couple of years at least to get off to a good start. But that doesn’t mean we have to stop. At this moment we must transform experience into strength, the obligatory pause into constructive thinking”.
Chef Matteo Baronetto, who has already been “planning the reopening for days, has very clear ideas: we are lucky enough to have the outside area and two rooms, so we’ll outdistance the tables, we’ll have a possibility of 35 seats, half the norm - explains Baronetto, starred with the Ristorante del Cambio in Turin, at whose tables Cavour sat- while for the Bar Cavour, we are considering whether to open directly in September. For the Farmacia del Cambio we have an outside area, we’ll also have the tables spaced out and we won’t serve inside. We had already chosen to shorten the menu, concentrate on fewer dishes to follow a clearer and more precise line, and this emergency has accelerated a course that we had already decided, in this sense. We are reviewing the staff structure, we won’t be able to work at the same time as we did before. Then on the measures, it is clear that the guideline must be given by the scientific community, which will tell us what is useful and what is not. What is certain is that plexiglass barriers, as one assumes, I do not see them in a restaurant. We will use the face mask, I am more trenchant on the gloves, in our work they are very difficult to use having to change them continuously, and an unthinkable amount would be needed. Better to accentuate even more the sanitization of the hands. Then on other things, such as managing input and output flows, measuring the temperature at the entrance, these are all things we will do if needed, and we will get used to it. But I think that, in general, there will be a need for entrepreneurs to start being politicians, in the sense that they have to be the entrepreneurs, who have to deal with reality and the problems to be faced every day, to draw the lines and advise politicians, because the feeling is that there is an extended distance between the reality of what happens and those who legislate and take measures”.
Dark panoramas, no doubt, but horizons that, as far as possible, clear up as you move away from the cities, pointing towards the countryside, open spaces, and restaurants that depend less on tourism, more or less mass tourism, and more on the link with the territories and local communities. This is the case, for example, of Antonia Klugmann, at the helm of L’Argine in Vencò, Dolegna sul Collio. “We reacted immediately, with a delivery activity, which covers the three provinces of Friuli, and which is giving us much satisfaction. As far as the reopening to the public is concerned, I think that health is the priority for everyone, I never believed in a restart in conjunction with the primary activities. As far as the further indebtedness of companies is concerned, I believe that everyone has to reckon with their numbers, paying attention to a changed situation: it is not necessarily the solution. I don’t think there is a single solution for all the catering activities, every region is different and every single restaurant is different: we, in these fifteen years, have maintained a hard core of local customers, but those who have based much of their business on foreign tourism will undoubtedly find it more difficult, at least until the freedom of movement is restored. There are many unknowns, however, from the reduced economic capacity of families to the impossibility of movement over long distances, to which I really cannot answer. I’ m in a fortunate position anyway - concludes Antonia Klugmann - because I’ve been working in the area for many years, my business is healthy, we’ll see the guidelines for reopening, but a restaurant like ours, which is based on small numbers, at most 24 seats divided into two rooms, has a different facility for managing the distance from a restaurant with one hundred seats per shift. And then we are used to working by reservation, and we are in the open country, we hope that the clients’ fear will become fear but not fright that it will prevent us from having a social life, no matter how different”. In another countryside, the Umbrian one, a few kilometers from Spoleto, Mauro Rastelli is preparing for the reopening of “Il Capanno”, among many uncertainties. “It’s true, being in the countryside is a small fortune, both because we can easily respect social distances and because ventilation is guaranteed, especially in the garden, but there are many new things to deal with. But I don’t know how many people will come and in what spirit. The desire is great, but what is frightening are the costs: we have to give up banqueting, we will have a lower income, as a family business we will save ourselves, but it becomes difficult because there will be expenses, such as bills. Rather than restarting again, it will be difficult to resist, in August there will be taxes to pay, coming from a difficult summer, the hypothesis of an amnesty is not so bad. Yes, there are public contributions, but the increase in expenses will be important, starting with those for sanitation. And then the job will change: cooking with the mask will be a limitation, sanitizing the menus will be difficult, we will have to decide whether or not to detect the temperature of our customers, which we can no longer welcome as we would like. We will also have to understand if the guidelines will be the same for everyone or not, because many places in the historical centers of cities and towns, born respecting the requirements of many years ago, risk not being able to guarantee safety standards. It will not be easy at all if we could reopen in 2021 ...”.

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