Anyone who has been connected with the food and drink industry, or indeed anything to do with hospitality, this year will realise that the uncertainty and chaos surrounding Covid continues. In Europe the second wave has rapidly become a third wave and most countries in the European Union have put in place some very strict measures. As we enter 2021 a vaccine has been rolled out and all countries in the EU have now received the first deliveries but I fear that personal restrictions and the closure of hospitality businesses will remain in place.
Covid Chaos Continues
Here in France my restaurant has been closed since October 28th. I have missed out on the normally lucrative period of Christmas and the New Year, only being allowed to offer a takeaway service. We also have a national curfew between 8pm and 6am meaning nobody can come out to collect a takeaway order between those times. There is a provisional opening date of January 20th but I am not sure that is going to happen.
The number of daily Covid infections and, more importantly hospitalisations, continues to rise. Along with restaurants and bars, cinemas, theatres, museums and all the ski stations are also closed. On a recent visit to a ski station I was talking to the café owner (takeaway only!) who does not expect the ski lifts to open until at least February – the bulk of the ski season will have passed by then. Fortunately, the French government has put in place some financial support for businesses that have been forced to close.
Elsewhere in Europe the situation is very similar. In Italy from October 26th all bars and restaurants have had to close at 6pm. This was further restricted during November so that restaurants in orange and red risk areas were closed completely and only permitted to offer takeaway until the national curfew of 10pm.
Austria entered its third national lockdown on December 26th. Bars and restaurants are once again closed to diners with the exception of takeaway. Hotels are closed to tourists and leisure guests with only essential travel permitted. The lockdown is due to stay in place until January 24th.
Germany enforced a strict lockdown again before Christmas. All non-essential businesses were closed including, of course, bars and restaurants. In some areas of Germany bars and restaurants have been closed since November. The lockdown is due to stay in place until January 10th.
Spain has a national curfew, although the times vary in some regions. For example, in Catalonia which is very close to where I live curfew is from 10pm until 6am. There are national restrictions imposed on bars and restaurants such as their maximum capacity and opening hours. Again in Catalonia bars and restaurants can only open from 7.30am to 9.30am and again from 1pm until 3.30pm with indoor capacity limited to 30%. Dinner service is takeaway only from 7pm until 10pm.
Without exception across Europe people are obliged to wear a face mask while out in public and,if restaurants are open, while entering and moving about in a restaurant or bar.
England is currently operating a Tier system of restrictions and has recently introduced a new Tier at level 4 to cope with the dramatic increase in infections along with a recently discovered new strain of the virus. I have previously written about the Tier system in England and its effects on the hospitality industry.
The overriding factor of the evolving level of restrictions across Europe is the disruption it causes to business. Many hospitality businesses had planned their Christmas and New Year stock levels and booked staff to work before suddenly being forced to close once again. In England this situation is even worse with the Government reviewing its Tier system in the week before Christmas.
Bars and restaurants that had been allowed to open to the public, because they were situated in a Tier 1 or Tier 2 area, discovered that their region had changed and they were now in Tier 3 or even Tier 4 and therefore unable to open. This was particularly apparent in London which jumped from Tier 2 to the new Tier 4. Many restaurants had taken bookings and bought food stocks for the Christmas period to then have to contact their customers and get imaginative with the stock.
We can only hope that 2021 is going to be a better year all round and that we can get our restaurants and hospitality venues back open as soon as safely possible.