How politicians from cities and rural areas can support the gastronomy sector.
The hospitality industry is one of the hardest-hit sectors bythe Covid-19 crisis. After a few months of relief thanks to outdoor seating, winter is now approaching, forcing restaurateurs to shift back to indoor service. The key challenges are that a higher risk of infection is unsettling for guests – and that social distancing regulations significantly reduce sales. It’s no wonderthat the food service industry is concerned about the upcoming cold season and is searching for solutions. This is an issue that also needs to be addressed by policymakers at all levels of government – city, state and federal. We invited representatives from both the public and the private sector to Düsseldorf to attend the opening of this year’s METRO OWN BUSINESS DAY.
Every second Tuesday in October is dedicated to the METRO OWN BUSINESS DAY. This year, the event in honour of independent business owners fell on 13 October. In no other year has the OWN BUSINESS DAY been as important as during the Covid-19 crisis. The pandemic has a huge impact on the hotel, restaurant and catering industry. Since the reopening in May the situation is worsening again due to the rising number of cases. One thing is clear: the hospitality industry still needs support – and not just of a financial nature. Clear and consistent rules, well-balanced regulations and flexible solutions are key factors that can help to boost the sector.
Kerstin Rapp-Schwan, managing director of the Schwan restaurants in Düsseldorf and the surrounding region, attended this year’s event. She became a business owner because she would rather call her own shots than follow someone else’s lead. But she faces an uphill battle now that the official response to the virus has produced a long list of requirements that must be followed to ensure the health and safety of her guests. ‘We are expected to learn and to learn incredibly fast,’ she complains, adding: ‘We are facing a situation in which us restaurateurs are required to be as flexible as possible.’ Looking back on the restart of the sector, which was encouraged by METRO with the #restartGastro initiative, she recalls how hectic things were: ‘We had 48 hours to prepare before we reopened. If we learned as slowly as the politicians, we would already be broke.’ Now winter is just around the corner – and there is a lack of clarity again, she says.
Christoph Dammermann, State Secretary for the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Innovation, Digitalisation and Energy of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, shares her concerns. Dammermann is well aware that business owners would rather write invoices than fill in applications for financial assistance. And he says that the main focus of government policies should be on ensuring that businesses can operate successfully even under Covid-19 conditions. But, he adds, this also requires the courage to adopt innovative solutions.
Indoor air purifiers are one promising approach. They filter aerosols from the air and thus reduce the risk of indirect infection. Speaking in more concrete terms, Dammermann assures the restaurateurs that North Rhine-Westphalia is considering a subsidy programme for air filters. But but he notes that further studies will have to be completed and expert reports issued before individual units or manufacturers can be awarded a TÜV certificate of compliance with official standards. He promises that the programme to fund filters ‘will be forthcoming!’
Many restaurateurs feel that policymakers are not acting fast enough, including Walid El Sheikh, owner of Sir Walter, Elephant Bar, Oh Baby Anna and the Boston Bar – all located in Düsseldorf. With 200 employees, he bears an enormous responsibility and criticises politicians for not understanding the need for rapid and pragmatic action. ‘If something goes wrong, I take responsibility for it and don’t have an expert report drawn up stating whether it was my fault.’ As a further example of misguided politics, the entrepreneur points to the political measures to restrict nightlife in Frankfurt and Berlin with local curfews, which he denounces as state control because, ‘in a bid to reassure the public, an industry is brought to its knees and people are told that everything is under control’. In fact, he says, much higher infection rates have been reported after private parties than in the hospitality industry. But he remains optimistic and, even during this difficult situation, is opening his first restaurant at Düsseldorf’s Media Harbour. The restaurateur would like to see more investment from the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Innovation in digitalising the food service industry because, as he points out, it is precisely the many small businesses that need support in this respect.
The Office of Economic Development of the city of Düsseldorf concedes that it also had a lot to learn about the hospitality industry and its needs. Events such as this panel contribute to a better mutual understanding, according to Theresa Winkels, who heads the office for economic development. For Theresa Winkels, the situation is clear: ‘We want to promote hospitality businesses and actively create space for innovative restaurateurs in Düsseldorf.’ She goes on to say that the many restaurants, bars and cafes are a vital element of the city’s appealing lifestyle. Initiatives by the Office for Economic Development can alsocontribute to digitalising the industry. She emphasises that, without owner-managed retail stores and restaurants, every city loses its charm.
This year, Düsseldorf has supported the hospitality industry with additional outdoor areas – and has now extended the licence to operate them. Furthermore, the city has suspended the originally planned ban on the use of patio heaters. This is a huge step forward for the local administration – and exactly the kind of concrete support that a city can provide. But, for restaurateur Rapp-Schwan, this does not go far enough: ‘As a restaurateur, I can make it as comfortable as possible when it’s rainy and cold outside, but I still might not find anyone willing to dine outside. . .’ She says that major investments have to be made in outdoor areas to make them viable over the longer term but points out: ‘We are also working with a limited budget.’ In addition, she notes that there is a lack of clarity for such investments. The same holds true for indoor air purifiers: ‘Here we need clear statements from politicians that these purchases make sense, and we need a message to the public to be confident about their personal safety.’ To avoid waiting for the authorities to send this signal, Rapp-Schwan recently had her restaurants certified by TÜV Rheinland, making her one of the first business owners in Germany to achieve this standard of hygiene and infection protection. After all, confidence is the greatest asset these days.
Despite the clear challenges for the hospitality industry, the evening ended on an upbeat note: State Secretary Dammermann and the CEO of METRO AG, Olaf Koch, pressed the buzzer to illuminate the Rhine Tower with the OWN BUSINESS DAY logo and numerous names of businesses in Düsseldorf – from restaurants to nail studios. It was a strong sign of appreciation for independent business owners – and a brilliant way to kick off this year’s OWN BUSINESS DAY. #LoveOwnBusiness