Concerns about the COVID pass in restaurants: this is what is happening in Italy

PANDEMIA

The COVID certificate becomes compulsory in Switzerland in order to eat in restaurants - In Italy the law has already been enforced since early August. Luciano Sbraga of the Federazione Italiana Pubblici Esercizi (Italian Federation of Public Establishments) makes a first assessment: «So far, there has been no obvious economic impact».

Concerns about the COVID pass in restaurants: this is what is happening in Italy
Concerns about the COVID pass in restaurants: this is what is happening in Italy

Concerns about the COVID pass in restaurants: this is what is happening in Italy

Concerns about the COVID pass in restaurants: this is what is happening in Italy

The decision has finally been made: the COVID certificate is now mandatory for all customers who would like to dine at a bar or restaurant. A decision already in force in the neighboring countries of Switzerland, which has been much feared by the Swiss professional organizations. GastroSuisse, following the announcement of Bern, has not hidden its concerns, referring to massive economic losses for the sector. A sector that during the pandemic has been among the most affected by anti-COVID measures. In nearby Italy, the obligation of a national green pass, that requires only one dose of vaccine to enjoy food in bars and restaurants (the European one requires full immunization, ed.), has been effective since August 6: have professionals suffered during this period? Have there been any particular difficulties? Taking into account that the initiative was launched in a summer month, and therefore favorable for outdoor catering, we have tried to make a preliminary assessment with Luciano Sbraga, director of the Study Center of the Italian Federation of Public Establishments (FIPE).

No evident economic impact

As previously mentioned, as of August 6, all customers wishing to eat at a table in a bar or restaurant must show their green pass. A provision that the sector, originally, did not welcome, but which at the moment, in most cases, has not caused obvious economic problems. Luciano Sbraga underlines this, trying to take a snapshot of the situation: «The introduction of the certificate in the middle of summer, with a fairly favorable climate, and with the possibility, for those who have it, to use the tables outside, expanding their spaces, has softened the impact of the measure, rendering it softer. Furthermore, there is a tendency to consume outdoors in the warm months, so it is difficult for people to stay inside». Consequently, the green pass has not had the negative impact that entrepreneurs initially feared, at least as far as the city of Rome is concerned, where the survey was conducted. The director of the FIPE Study Center points out: «We made an initial assessment in the capital, which, from the point of view of the green pass, is symbolic: it has many public establishments, it has tourists, even if they are not those of the past, and there is a lot of movement. From the economic point of view, there has not been an obvious backlash, for all the reasons I explained earlier. The impact of the certificate has been felt at an organizational level. There have been difficulties, however, especially for establishments that do not have outdoor spaces: these represent a third of all public establishments in Rome. Initially, however, there were many more people opposed to the green pass, and then gradually the percentage dropped: today 60% of those in the industry are in favor of it, while 40% are not. The people against it are mostly restaurateurs who do not have outdoor spaces».

Personnel, apps and controls

Businesses have had to gear up to check customers’ green passes. Sbraga explains: «The verification of the document has obliged businesses to hire at least one person for checks at the entrance, whereas many have opted for verification at the table, at the time of placing the order. Signs have been placed at the entrances of the restaurants that say that you can only eat inside if you have the certificate. So, if the customer sits down and then finds himself forced to get up because he does not have a green pass, he should not resent the restaurateur who had correctly informed him». As far as controls are concerned, there has been no lack of «incidents» of a technical nature. The FIPE expert says: «Some problems occurred especially with paper green passes, which sometimes were not readable by the ‘VerificaC19’ app, the one that allows you to identify the document via QR code. The app also failed to recognize the COVID pass with non-European tourists, or those vaccinated with preparations not recognized by the European Medicines Agency (with an exception for the Republic of San Marino, ed.)».

Patrons have not always agreed to show the certificate. Sbraga says: «Some customers did not condone the checks. Despite there being a law, some see the measure as a nuisance. But this is the law of the State and must be applied, because the operator not only risks a fine from 400 to a thousand euros, but also the closure of the premises for 5 days, if he slips up three times in a row. The workers cannot afford to make mistakes». In fact, very few of them are caught in the act. The person we spoke to emphasizes: «We do not have precise data, but surely, in an audience like Italy’s, with 120,000 restaurants and 130,000 bars, there have been situations in which someone turned a blind eye or trusted the customer, without checking with the app. In the time period from August 6 to the end of August, something like 80/90 thousand checks related to COVID measures were made, including green pass checks in restaurants: only 0.02% of the activities were sanctioned. The compliance with security measures seems very broad. There will probably be some flaws in the system, but I think it’s physiologically sound.»

The attacks on TripAdvisor

In Italy, several restaurateurs who had expressed consent to the vaccine and the green pass, including before its introduction, have been barraged with negative reviews from No Vax and skeptics on TripAdvisor. The Italian Federation of Public Establishments ran for cover to safeguard the sector. «We have informed all our associations, asking them to report the reviews and we have intervened,« says Sbraga, adding: «We have alerted TripAdvisor on the problem, which is already widespread in France and Spain. We managed to build a direct line with TripAdvisor and our organizations to report suspicious reviews: many of them have been removed. The portal does not tolerate reviews against those who do their duty respecting the law. Unfortunately, it is not easy to identify these negative reviews related to COVID security measures, because the reviews are managed by the system. They need to be reported so that a suitable person intervenes. In this regard, I warn Swiss restaurateurs: if you find suspicious negative reviews, report them immediately, they will be removed».

And what will happen in the colder months?

While summer has not been particularly problematic, how will fall and winter fare? FIPE’s expert says, «I know that many operators will continue to use outdoor spaces, even with the arrival of the colder months, just to handle the more critical situations related to those who don’t have green passes. They will use heaters to keep the environment warm, for example. Provided that the vaccine does not become mandatory in Italy, although I don’t think it will come to that. We have to understand what will happen when customers will have to stay inside because the weather does not allow them to stay outside: we hope that the arrival of colder months will coincide with the increase of vaccinated people, and therefore of green passes. Today in Italy there are just under 11 million people who do not have the certificate», concludes Luciano Sbraga.

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