Only four people per table, curfew at 11pm and compulsory masks as soon as you walk around in the restaurant: The corona measures are drastic for the gastronomy. A small survey shows that many establishments that are open are hit hard.
One might think that luckily the lockdown takes place now during the off-season, when many establishments are closed anyway. Hotelier association president Christof Huber does not support this statement. "The latest restrictions affect many establishments that are open in the off-season, each of which is important for the Saanenland". The new restrictions are compulsory seating, a maximum table size of four people, curfew from 11pm to 6am and compulsory masks.
Rule of four and solutions
Huber explains why the measures are affecting the industry: "The four-person rule reduces sales because large tables are more sales-intensive than two and four-person tables.” The flexibility and spontaneity of the guests is severely restricted by the space restrictions. But that depends on the attitude of the guests. The Arc-en-ciel in Gstaad, for example, mainly caters Swiss guests at this time. "They have already dealt with the rule of four in spring and know the solution to the problem: larger groups simply split up," says hotelier Christiane Matti. This is, she says, well accepted by the guests.
For the time being the restrictions do not create a shortage of space at the Arc-en-ciel. But Matti anticipates possible difficulties for the winter season: "Perhaps we will have to introduce a time limit to accommodate all the guests.”
Most follow guidelines
Locals and guests alike meet at Bro's in Gstaad for an aperitif, a chat and a snack. Murat Bicik, owner of Bro's, confirms that most of the guests follow the rules. There is the occasional difficult situation, he says: "Once a group of six wanted to push two tables together. Unfortunately, we cannot allow that at the moment. The group showed no understanding and left." That hurts the host: "It's no fun to work like this." But he does not want to risk a fine or even the closure of the establishment and insists on the rules.
Closing time at 11pm
People from southern Europe usually eat dinner fairly late. Closing time at 11pm can become a problem in this respect, as Huber points out. The guests have to leave before dessert and that reduces sales. Matti agrees: "This will be a challenge, especially over Christmas and New Year, when many chalet owners and tourists will again be in the Saanenland and, as usual, arrive late for dinner.”
The curfew is also problematic because after 10pm many staff and club members of other restaurant and bars usually stop by for a nightcap.
Very difficult time
"The situation is extremely difficult for us. But we are fighting," Bicik describes the current situation. With the seating requirement, Bro's lost many seatings, which significantly reduces their turnover. Regular guests may avoid going to a restaurant for fear of an infection. The rumour mill adds to this and makes the bad situation worse. Nevertheless, Bro's wants to remain open. Bicik: "We are supported by the locals and by the authorities. We want to give something back."
Poor prospects for the winter season
"At the moment, the booking level for the winter season is very low and planning reliability is low," says Huber. The tourism industry hopes that the Swiss will jump into the breach of the missing foreign guests as they did in summer. What the winter season will look like, however, depends on many factors. It is still open whether the partial lockdown will remain, whether it will be tightened or whether the measures will be lifted before Christmas. "The measures imposed by the federal government and the canton are based on the development of the second wave," says Huber. He is certain that in the event of more far-reaching restrictions, some establishments will face closure.
Support is important
"In this extreme situation, support is very important," emphasises Huber. Short-time work and Covid loans of the first aid package in early summer had a positive effect. But more is needed: "At the moment our associations are trying to obtain the so-called 'hardship clause'.” In cases of hardship, the restaurateurs could apply for additional money or an interest-free loan. "This only applies to businesses that are in financial difficulties through no fault of their own and caused by the pandemic," Huber explains. Furthermore, great solidarity is called for, which is why he calls on locals and guests alike: "Support the businesses that are open!”
Based on AvS/Blanca Burri