Restaurants reboot with new strategies
Some open only for dinner or limit opening days; others prune menus; others offer simpler home-style meals.
The news reports daily on the problems, and sometimes ordeals, of many employee categories left without work, income, or above all, prospects in the short or medium term. All have equal dignity and should be supported, but clearly the silence which has enveloped the tourism and restaurant sectors has been truly deafening. The entire sphere of travel agencies, tour guides, hotels and restaurants, accounting for over 15% of Italy’s GDP, shuttered for months and with dreary prospects, needs concrete help to survive. Not only urgent monetary aid, but also less bureaucracy and fewer absurd regulations which stifle this vital sector of our economy. While we await foreign tourism, crucial for Italy, a timid resurgence of restaurants is taking form, with attempts to combat falling revenues using several strategies. Some use delivery or carry-out (which will not be abandoned even after complete re-opening); some open only for dinner or limit opening days; others prune menus or offer simpler home-style meals. Obviously the panorama is a leopard-skin patchwork, with darker patches in areas which remain threatened by the coronavirus and lighter patches where the contagion has disappeared or nearly so. In any case, high-level restaurants, the robust ‘starred’ establishments, are apparently suffering the least. Despite the masks and social distancing, Bottura, Cracco, Bartolini, Sadler, Guida from Seta in Milan, Oldani, Cerea et al are going strong, and booking a table there is already well-nigh impossible. Some have set fewer places, but only slightly; work lunches are down, but neighbourhood regulars have increased.
Recovery has been harder for smaller venues once crowded with tourists, and for pizza restaurants and pubs with buffets. Some will not reopen, but, as we have already noted, there was a surplus of mediocre if not abysmal establishments. The current norms, with abundant hypocrisy, impose limitations which, from what we observe in restaurants, appear widely flouted. Weddings and birthdays are frequently celebrated, with hugs and smooches galore. On one restaurant table we found a form to fill, prepared by the unclearly defined ‘manager’, where one of the multiple-choice options was ‘condominium co-residents’. It is well-known that laws can be creatively interpreted for friends. Yet we would love to find out, for clarity’s sake, how many youngsters were infected along Milan’s Navigli canals, on the seaside promenades in Naples, on Mondello beach in Sicily, in restaurants and bars, on beaches crawling with helicopters and quad bikes. As the Accademia dei Lincei rightly points out, statistics alone reveal very little: to be understood, phenomena must also be described. However, we should bide our time if, as we hope, the scourge is on its way out and problems will resolve spontaneously; we have little need of bright minds extruding platitudes of staggering banality, as long as they don’t actively hinder improvements - which is by no means unlikely.
P.S. This issue of Civiltà della Tavola is the first and last lacking the section on Academic life. With the forthcoming July issue, our customary report will resume, detailing the first convivial activities undertaken by the Delegations in June.
President of the Accademia