A panel discussion about the future of the food service sector in Europe
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 crisis is having a devastating effect on the hospitality sector in Europe. Long-lasting closures and the lack of clear perspectives for a safe and reliable reopening are taking a toll on hundreds of thousands of restaurants and their direct suppliers. Only continued support, including long-term investments in modernisation and sustainability, could save a vital sector of our economies and societies.
A roadmap beyond Covid-19
On 27 January, METRO together with the media network Euractiv brought together representatives from the EU institutions and stakeholders from the European hospitality sector to discuss the challenges and needs to get back on its feet again.
One thing was clear from the beginning of the discussion: As the Vice-Chair of the Transport and Tourism Committee of the European Parliament István Uhjelyi mentioned, we all miss those dinners with family and friends in our favourite restaurant or the after-work drink with colleagues at the bar just around the corner. Mr Uhjelyi advocated for a smart reopening that includes a stepwise strategy, in order to give clear perspectives (and hope!) to restaurateurs and entrepreneurs in the sector.
Perspective for reopening
Marie Audren, Director-General of the European association for hotels, restaurants and cafés, HOTREC, also highlighted the essential role that hospitality plays as a social glue for citizens. As a sector representative, she was very clear when stated that businesses will need continued support, even after reopening, to unlock the entrepreneurial spirit in the post-Covid world.
Éric Poirier, COO at METRO AG, mentioned three fundamental conditions for the recovery of hospitality: 1. Policymakers must provide and clearly communicate on a perspective for reopening as soon as the conditions allowed, this should not be delayed indefinitely; 2. Financial support goes beyond short-terms credits and loans, but rather focus on direct subsidies and investments; 3. We should all bear in mind, that the current closures of restaurants are having a knock-on effect on the whole supply chain for gastronomy, especially on small producers and suppliers.
The opportunities that innovation and digitalisation offer to the sector has never been more obvious that during this pandemic. Take-away and delivery have become the lifeline for restaurants in the last few months, said Marie Audren.
However, some operators charge restaurant owners abusive fees for their services. As an alternative, Hospitality.Digital has recently launched DISH Order, a tool that can be integrated into the restaurant website, so that customers can order directly from the restaurant, either for take-away or delivery.
More sustainable gastronomy please
Sustainability was another keyword that came up several times during the debate. Claire Bury, Deputy-Director of Food & Sustainability of the European Commission, called on hospitality entrepreneurs to embrace the opportunity that the Farm-to-Fork strategy represents to move towards a more sustainable food system in Europe, in which gastronomy plays a key role. Peter Schmidt, from the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), mentioned that sustainability should also entail an economic dimension, including better social protection of hospitality’s employees.
In their closing remarks, the speakers wanted to emphasise their confidence in the recovery of the sector, but only if we put in place now the right policies and support measures, in order to allow restaurateurs to invest in their future. This will be vital to bring people together and life back to our city centres.
“Let’s not forget that gastronomy is a fundamental part of our European way of life”, concluded the moderator Dave Keating.