Business Standard

Coronavirus is pummeling Europe's eateries - and winter is coming

As the Friday night dinner service began earlier this month, it seemed the owners' decision to move the operation into the spacious village church to comply with coronavirus rules was paying off.

Europe, restaurant

AP Heikruis
As the Friday night dinner service began earlier this month at the De Viering restaurant outside Brussels, it seemed the owners' decision to move the operation into the spacious village church to comply with coronavirus rules was paying off.
The reservation book was full and the kitchen was bustling.
And then Belgium's prime minister ordered cafes, bars and restaurants to close for at least a month in the face of surging infections.
It's another shock, of course, because yes, all the investments are made, said chef Heidi Vanhasselt. She and her sommelier husband Christophe Claes had installed a kitchen and new toilets in the Saint Bernardus church in Heikruis, as well as committing to 10 months' rent and pouring energy into creative solutions.
Vanhasselt's frustration is Europe's as a resurgence of the coronavirus is dealing a second blow to the continent's restaurants, which already suffered under lockdowns in the spring.
From Northern Ireland to the Netherlands, European governments have shuttered eateries or severely curtailed how they operate.
More than just jobs and revenue are at stake restaurants lie at the heart of European life.
Their closures are threatening the social fabric by shutting the places where neighbors mix, extended families gather and the seeds of new families are sown.
A restaurant remains a place where very special moments are celebrated, said Griet Grassin of the Italian restaurant Tartufo on the outskirts of Brussels. It's not just the food, but it's the well-being.
This time, the closures are particularly painful because they might stretch into the Christmas season, nixing everything from pre-holiday office drinks to a special meal on the day.
When it comes to purely calories and vitamins, of course we can live without restaurants, said food historian professor Peter Scholliers.
But, he asked: We can live without being social? No, we can't. Successful restaurants have always had to adapt quickly but never has there been a challenge like this.
The European Union said the hotel and restaurant industry suffered a jaw-dropping 79.3 per cent decline in production between February and April. Try bouncing back from that.
Summer, with its drop in COVID-19 cases and a hesitant return to travel, brought some respite, especially in coastal resorts.
But then came fall. Any giddiness that the fallout from the pandemic could somehow be contained faced the sobering reality of relentlessly rising coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.
Overall, COVID-19 has killed over 240,000 people across all of Europe. Government leaders are now warning things will get worse before they get better.
But many restaurant owners have bristled at the new round of restrictions, and some are openly challenging them.
In London last week, the preeminent chef Yotam Ottolenghi banged pots on the street to protest restrictions that include earlier closing times.
It's really hard, we've got a great industry with lots of heart, Ottolenghi said.
And there's so many people who depend on it.
If the mood of any nation is set by its stomach, surely France's is. And it is turning as sour as a rhubarb tartlet. The streets of Paris, the culinary capital of Lyon and several other French cities were eerily empty at night during the first week of a 9 pm curfew scheduled to last for at least a month.
Xavier Denamur, who owns five Parisian cafes and bistros that employ around 70 workers, said the French government is unfairly punishing the industry.
It's a catastrophic measure, he said, arguing any curfew should be pushed to at least 11 pm to allow for a proper dinner service.

(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

Don't miss the most important news and views of the day. Get them on our Telegram channel

First Published: Oct 25 2020 | 2:24 PM IST

Explore News