Allegrini 2018

The top restaurants in Italy are still optimistic, restarting with their innovation: the dining room

Messages of the “big names” (Bastianich, Berton, Cerea, Pipero, Reitano and Amato), with Cuccia (Gambero Rosso) and Marchi (Identita Golose)

The most established restaurants that have been in the topmost guides for years, through organization and flexibility, have managed to keep up with the lockdown and live in an unfortunately still ongoing emergency. They have overcome economic losses creating new initiatives and enhancing more than ever client reception. These are, of course, the case histories of solid and excellent restaurants in a catering landscape that is being significantly challenged. Estimated losses total over 23 billion euros in 2020, compared to a turnover of 86 billion euros in 2019, and there are tens of thousands of catering businesses that risk closing permanently. However, precisely in the Covid-19, the dining room staff, a sort of “first line of catering”, said Marcello Masi, the Italian TV network, RAI, journalist, has proven to be extremely important in order to more than ever, make the customer feel good, comfortable and safe. This is also the message that the topmost personalities In the restaurant industry, such as Joe Bastianich, Andrea Berton (Ristorante Berton), Rossella Ceres (Da Vittorio) and Alessandro Pipero (Pipero), and sommeliers such as Marco Reitano (La Pergola del Rome Cavalieri by Heinz Beck) and Marco Amato (Imago of the Hotel Hassler in Rome), expressed to WineNews, at the round table, titled, “The role of the dining room to re-launch catering”, organized at the Gran Melia Hotel Rome by the Noi Di Sala Association in the second edition of the “Pass” conference (Professionalism , Reception, Service, Team). Even though we are aware that “that everything is more challenging, and I liked it more the way it was before”, Joe Bastianich is still very optimistic, considering that in the States, he is facing the closure of all his 27 restaurants, “because”, says the Italian-American chef, “ultimately it’s a great time for catering. All the rules have changed, but restaurateurs are capable and can adequately face the changes. They know how to reinvent themselves. It will also be a period of great opportunity for those who know how to adapt”.
Bastianich is also in Rome to present his new book, “The Rules of Success”. “I wrote it before the emergency broke out, but what I have written is still true for many things even in this period”, he told WineNews. Bastianich agrees that it is economically a quite challenging moment for catering to sustain, but “the sector will go on: some will not make it, others will open, we are experiencing a sort of “Social Darwinism” in the food and wine world. There are those who will fall, and those who will go forward”. Listening to the participants at the round table, one realizes that the Covid-19 era has not affected the optimism of the world of excellent catering. They have rolled up their sleeves, as Bastianich pointed out, “to build new things that have different stimuli from the previous ones”.
“The prospects are positive”, Marco Reitano, the chef sommelier of La Pergola and president of the Not Di Sala Association, told WineNews, “and in this period we have trained ourselves to wear a mask, and keep social distance, but there has always been distance in our job, because we never wanted a crowd. In the summer, it was tough to keep the mask on, sometimes there was not much air, but we learned how to do it and it trained us for the future. The customers are still the same and in this period we have consolidated our regular customers. They are the customers who couldn’t wait for the restaurants to reopen”. There are of course economic concerns, Reitano pointed out, but in an extremely varied scenario of light and shadow. “Restaurants are either full or empty, day by day”, he observed. “This is a moment of uncertainty that is not, however, the same for everyone. There are restaurants that are working a lot, and that is great; they are the established ones, which have always had a large clientele, while others are struggling, like those in the historic centers, penalized by the lack of tourists”.
Chef Berton of the starred restaurant in Milan is also dealing with the “Covid-19 storm” serenely. “We need to adapt to the situation at hand, but since we have always been flexible in our work, it has allowed us to adapt to make it safe, to make sure that customers come back to the restaurant, feel safe and live the experience as they did before. We have reduced our staff very slightly”, Berton told WineNews, “I wanted to protect my entire staff, and so we invented other things to keep the company solid, such as making dinners at home for customers. We have done an excellent job over the past years, which will allow us to go on for some time”.
Rossella Cerea, reception manager of the three-star restaurant Da Vittorio in Bergamo, said, “it is certainly not an easy time, but immediately after the lockdown, people who came to our restaurant really wanted to celebrate, to enjoy everything they could taste. We have reorganized, and even though fortunately our restaurant has ample space, we have still prepared various safety measures. For instance, tables spaced further apart, measuring temperatures when customers enter and periodic serological tests for our staff. Of course, we missed all of our events, which have been postponed to next May and June. We managed not to reduce the staff, thanks to a new initiative. This summer we built a restaurant by the pool, where we offered pizza and grilled meats, utilizing the staff that we usually assigned to events”.
Marco Amato, Imago’s Maitre and sommelier, emphasizes that the work of the dining room staff has been an added value in this emergency phase. “Our mandate”, he underlined,”is to reassure customers. When you enter a restaurant where you can see that it is organized in a way that lets you feel comfortable, then the customer is reassured. We have a great organization, and everything is going well. These challenging times can be overcome, as long as we re-organize and don’t close the restaurants. Among other things, customers, after the lockdown, want to spend money and have a good time”.
Alessandro Pipero, owner of the starred restaurant Pipero in Rome, emphasized the uncertainty of the moment and the importance of focusing on hospitality. “If people don’t come themselves”, he observed, “you have to bring them back to your tables. Hospitality must be the first ticket, when the customer gets off the train or the airplane”.
In the Covid-19 era, however, there are opportunities for the guides as well as for food and wine training, as the president of Gambero Rosso, Paolo Cuccia, pointed out: “the only good thing that Covid-19 has given us”, he told WineNews, “is a definitive digital revolution. It meant further growth for us - TV went from one to two channels and social activities continued to grow at double figures. We have organized several remote events, and remote tastings all over the planet. It was therefore not as difficult a year for us as it was, unfortunately, for catering. We managed to present our Guides in Italy, in person, and we will be spreading out the presentation of the Wine Guide over three days, for safety and distancing reasons, on October 16, 17 and 18th. We are looking at the current situation rationally, and I would add we are optimistic about the future”.
The Covid-I9 era has left a somewhat bitter taste to Paolo Marchi, creator of Identità Golose. “We will be presenting our guide in mid-December”, he told WineNews, “and we have had to reduce both Europe and the world, quite a bit. Further, the “thousands” of rules imposed on us are suffocating, but one has to follow them, otherwise you can’t possibly go on. Often, the people that govern us do not even know the difference between a restaurant, a bar and a bathhouse. Restaurants, instead, are perhaps the safest places in Italy right now because of their attention to detail, natural distancing and hygiene. We hope that by next year we will be able to go back to the way it was before, as we are a bit tired of this situation”.
We still have to look ahead, though and, “I am doing so with a smile on my face”, concluded Reitano, head of the Noi Di Sala Association, “the same smile I “wear” under my mask every time a customer is standing in front of me. My hope is that more than anything, new customers will be able to come back, and hopefully in the very near future, so we can again see the faces at this moment hidden behind the masks”.

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