Reopening amid insecurities

Tue, 12. May. 2020
The reopening of the restaurants requires a lot of innovation, as in the Wildhorn in Lauenen, where decorated Plexiglass walls fit into the ambience of the restaurant. (Photograph: AvS)

Since yesterday the restaurants are allowed to reopen under strict conditions. This is what the hosts say about the new situation.

Only four guests sit at the regulars' table, the restaurant is half empty. This scenario is not due to too few guests, but to the new hygiene measures. Finally the restaurants can reopen their doors after eight weeks of strict lockdown. At the Hotel Kernen in Schönried, for example, the first guests drank their beloved coffee on Monday at 7am.

Open despite losses
Many restaurants open their doors, although they fear that they will not be able to work profitably. Tenant of the Landhaus in Saanen, Manfred Weilguni: "Of the twenty tables in the restaurant, we can only serve ten at the moment." As a consequence he will continue with a minimum number of employees and short-time work will continue.

The Hotel Wildhorn in Lauenen has also been open again since yesterday. Plexiglas walls, fewer tables and a new arrangement ensure the minimum distance. Disinfectants are also available at various stations. In order to be ready in case of a big rush, the banquet hall will also be equipped for a la carte service. In the Hotel Kernen, the wooden regulars' table had to make way for a new one. There are also fewer tables on the popular sun terrace, but the owner, Bruno Kernen, has set up another terrace on a lawn.

Social contacts yes, but ...
"The need to maintain social contacts is great. The ensure that guests maintain the rules of distance and do not swap tables will certainly be a challenge for the hosts," says Ruth Lüthi from the Wildhorn. Kernen also deems it important to observe the new regulations and thus minimise the transition of the virus. "We must implement all measures and inform our guests if they don't follow them." But since most people are aware of the situation, he does not expect this to be problematic.

How to put food on the table?
The protection concept of Gastrosuisse stipulates that the service staff may wear protective masks, but not that they have to. At the Wildhorn, employees will wear protective masks when serving food and drinks. Lüthi: "In the first few days, we gather experience, evaluate it and adapt our concept accordingly".

Financial consequences
The Hotel Ermitage in Schönried opens its doors on 20 May, initially only for hotel guests. This will ensure that all distance rules can be observed. The Huus Hotel in Saanen is expected to open five weeks later, as co-owner Günter Weilguni says. He hopes that the measures will be further relaxed by then. Thanks to the federal government's Covid-19 credit and short-time work, the Huus Hotel will probably get off with a black eye, also because it can count on Swiss guests for 70 percent of its capacity. In return, the Huus is planning to keep its doors open for two more weeks in autmn, until 1 November, if the cable cars also extend their season. But the losses in March were enormous. Instead of the booked 1670 overnight stays, it recorded 370 overnight stays. "In March we have an extremely high number of seminars, including international ones. All of them were cancelled."

Wave of cancellations
The Landhaus Hotel mainly hosts guests visiting the Menuhin Festival in summer. Since the festival was cancelled only last week, Manfred Weilguni is currently facing a wave of cancellations. Normally, the hotel has an occupancy rate of 80 percent in July and August. At the moment it is a little over 10 percent. "We live on the reserves and will continue to do so," says Weilguni. How long these will last depends on the further course of business. "Of course we have been able to reduce variable costs to a minimum, but fixed costs such as the rent will remain at the same level."

Weilguni tried to find a solution with the landlord, the municipality of Saanen, but received a negative answer to his request for a reduction in rent. Now the Landhaus is trying to activate the summer with packages. "But I don't think we can spontaneously generate enough guests to save the summer season," he says. He is not a pessimist, he stresses, just a realist. The fact is that all destinations are currently vying for the Swiss customer.

His brother Günter Weilguni is even talking about a marketing battle for Swiss guests. Depending on how long the distance rules and restrictions on the number of guests apply, first notices of termination will be inevitable. "Unfortunately, this will happen in the near future." He will also react to the crisis with flexible opening hours.

With the cancellation of the summer events, the game changes completely. The problem is that the region does not have enough to offer without the events to suddenly become a family destination, for example. Manfred and Günter Weilguni also run a hotel in Flims. There, the break-in is less dramatic. "Flims has far fewer summer events, bookings are proceeding as usual."

Opening of hotels still unclear
Not all establishments have decided yet whether they will open at all during the summer season. Above all, the Gstaad Palace has postponed the opening by a whole month to 10 July. However, it will only open its doors if at least the Swiss borders to Europe open again. Owner Andrea Scherz explains: "The Palace has 25 percent Swiss guests in the summer. Even if this number were to double, it would still be far from economically viable for us to open the hotel only for the Swiss market." That is why the management will note make a decision until the beginning of June. Scherz is grateful that all employees have so far been spared the virus. Nevertheless, the situation is very tense, as it is still unclear what the future holds for the family business. The decision has not yet been made in the Gstaad Park either, the decision-making process is still ongoing, the hotel informed. The same applies to The Alpina Gstaad. It is expected to open on 3 July, four weeks later than planned.

Bellevue will open
The Hotel Le Grand Bellevue will definitely open on 3 July, maybe even earlier. That is three weeks later than planned. As in the Gstaad Palace, many events at the Bellevue were cancelled due to the new regulations. Like all other hotels, the cancellation of the big events gives them a stomachache, especially the beach and tennis tournaments, with which it works in close collaboration. "At the moment the booking status for the summer months is quite solid, but of course we don't know if there will be any cancellations," says Daniel Koetser, owner of the five-star hotel. Since 60 percent of the guests have been coming from Switzerland for years, Koetser remains positive and is now happy about this strategy. He is also happy about the high hygienic standards that prevail in the five-star hotels. "I'm sure this is conducive to customer confidence." But the additional measures will also have financial consequences for Le Grand Bellevue.

In conclusion, it can be said that the hosts are facing up to the new regulations innovatively and with vigour. Nevertheless, they look forward to a return to normality. "After all, we offer an experience in the restaurant and not a clinic-house atmosphere," as Günter Weilguni says.

Based on AvS/Blanca Burri

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