Allegrini 2018

Italian catering at the time of the Covid-19, between a not very rosy present and future scenarios

In a deep crisis, the catering industry is calling for a sustainable protocol for reopening. Eating at the restaurant? It will certainly be different
Catering, coronavirus emergency, technology, News
The trattoria “il Ciak” of Trastevere tests the plexiglass dividers

In order to have a precise date for the go-ahead for the reopening of bars and restaurants, one will certainly have to wait for the data following the slackening of the restrictive measures on 4 May. What is certain is that one of the diamond sectors of Made in Italy is in difficulty, and for weeks now thousands of entrepreneurs in the food, wine and restaurant industry throughout Italy have been asking for solutions and protocols to be found so that they can restart in a complete safety way. However, if agreements and protection systems have been found for other sectors that are fundamental for the economy of the country, it is equally true that to date there have been no responses from the government for the catering industry. Fipe-Federazione Italiana Pubblici Esercizi (Confcommercio), and Unione Italia Food (Uif) have immediately joined the cry for help that comes from a sector, that of catering, which also involves a large part of the Italian food industry: only in the first two months of the closure of bars, restaurants and canteens, catering services, the companies that are part of the categories represented by the Union, have recorded a contraction in turnover of more than 1 billion euros, destined to reach 4 billion in 2020. “Although it is often thought that the entire food sector has had good results because it has not suffered closures - explains Mario Piccialuti, Director of Unione Italiana Food - many companies in the sector have seen their only distribution channel closed. Dozens of companies have completely stopped their activities for months now - he continues - because they have no outlet on the market if public businesses remain closed: restaurants, bars, catering, in addition to offering services to all their customers, also represent an indispensable sales channel for the food economy. We have held out for a long time, we won't be able to go any further”. A dramatic crisis that adds up to that of retail and catering businesses: the estimated loss for the sector in 2020 is 34 billion euros, with 50,000 companies that may not reopen and 350,000 jobs at risk. In short, a dramatic situation that needs answers and a protocol that is unique throughout Italy, that takes into account all the forms of catering of the Belpaese, and that is sustainable for both small and large venues, from an economic and bureaucratic point of view, but also for spaces: think of the small village trattorias, small wine bars that offer typical snacks, that have limited staff and space, and therefore will not be able to implement social distancing . Catering is a sector that can also be considered entertainment, so not to be underestimated is the totality of the customer experience, which with all the necessary precautions, must remain enjoyable. It is precisely on this point that Fipe/Confcommercio’s denunciation focuses on, in the words of President Lino Enrico Stoppani, who stresses that “either the premises are reopened, giving restaurateurs the possibility to work safely, with organizationally viable and economically sustainable protocols, albeit with reduced capacity, or it is preferable to keep everything closed. At that point, the State will have to somehow help 1.25 million people who will have to live on its shoulders, at least until the Coronavirus has been defeated”.
The solutions are not easy to find, but the sector needs answers in order to emerge from a crisis that is already extremely deep. In other European countries, some help has arrived: in Germany, for example, the German government has decided to temporarily lower VAT for gastronomy. For restaurants and cafés, the tax will be reduced from 19% to 7% on meals, starting from July 1, 2020, and for 1 year. At the moment, the only practical directives, which will be found in the decree that will mark the green light to the openings, which could be on May 18, but also on June 1, are the municipal exemptions to the use of open spaces and parking spaces where to place the tables of the premises, in order to guarantee the distance of at least 2 meters between one table and another, and a minimum area in square meters for each customer (still to be defined). Only in cases where these recommendations cannot be applied (and will be many more cases than you might think), would the obligation to use plexiglass spacers on the tables be triggered. But if an effective protocol does not yet exist, what we know for sure is that eating in a restaurant will not be the same as before. If technological innovation has been the answer in many areas, some idea “of the future” that could help there is also for bars and restaurants.
In a scenario almost reminiscent of “The Jetsons” (a cartoon born in the sixties in the United States, known in Italy as “I pronipoti”), which imagined a futuristic life made of robots and daily facilities of technology, in these months of projects, proposals and patents have arrived: Marco Zorzettig, for example, at the helm of La Tunella, a Friulian winery, in collaboration with Gimmi Bodigoi, owner of Studio SBengineering, launched TAACfatto, a column equipped with a scanner capable of measuring body temperature and, if necessary, blocking access to the premises. Or, the Venetian startup Sunrise, which has patented the digital totem “Spray for life”, which combines a thermoscanner for measuring fever with two devices for hand and foot disinfection, and a facial recognition video to allow you to check if a customer is wearing the face mask. In the same way would work “Det 2000”, of the company Borinato Security of Vicenza: a tablet, installed in a totem at the entrance of the room, which reads the temperature and can recognize whether or not the customer is wearing the mask. The Banchetti Architettura studio of Omegna not only offers armored doors with facial recognition and temperature detection, but also screens for safety distance for outdoor seating and benches, Plexiglas panels, or stickers to personalize and make more fun visors for personal protection. And that's not all: once you have passed the checkpoint at the entrance, even orders can be handled with technology, as proposed by “T-Ordino”, a patent of the Risto-Technology startup in Bolzano, which together with Samsung has developed a system that allows the display of the menu in digital format on tablets, used for ordering directly from the customer at the table, which arrives in the kitchen via computer. Or the use of QR Codes, as the MyCia platform would offer: through their smartphone, customers would have access to the menu, including the menu of the day, wine list, and information on allergens and nutritional values of the dishes.
What the sector can do is to look to the East, where the Coronavirus emergency exploded earlier, and life is getting closer and closer to normality. In China, in Hong Kong, but also South Korea, restaurants and bars have reopened, with precautions that Italy and all Western countries will probably have to rely on, to finally start the phase of coexistence with the virus. So how did these countries deal with the reopening of the enterprises? In all of them, there has been a significant limitation on capacity: in Hong Kong, for example, a government ordinance requires restaurants to keep capacity below 50% and to reduce groups to just four people. Besides, it is also required to keep at least one and a half meters between tables to avoid crowding. And in addition to measuring the temperature at the entrance, both in China and Hong Kong, customers are required to have the recognition code given by the app that the government uses to track their movements (which inspired the Italian Immuni) and to sign a self-declaration that they have not come into contact with the virus in the last 14 days. Fixed presence in Asian restaurants are, then, the plexiglass separators, along with disinfectant for hands and tables.
But, you know, “Country you go, custom you find”: globalization is real, but catering is still the face of a country’s traditions. In Italy, this is also and above all made up of small territorial realities, which are the spokesmen of traditions and knowledge destined to get lost, of experimentation between past and future, between different cultures that meet, where technology can never replace the human being. Realities that must be protected and sustained at all costs.

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