“Restaurants open by mid-June, we are in agony”


The president of GastroTicino Massimo Suter launches a cry of desperation: failures, closures and dismissals are no longer taboo words

“Restaurants open by mid-June, we are in agony”
Massimo Suter. © CdT/Gabriele Putzu

“Restaurants open by mid-June, we are in agony”

Massimo Suter. © CdT/Gabriele Putzu

Massimo Suter, the Federal Council is ready to loosen its grip in various areas. But so far for the catering industry there are only vague predictions from Federal Councillor Guy Parmelain. Are you disappointed?

“I am very disappointed that our sector, which employs over 260.000 people nationwide with over 8.000 apprentices, is not taken into account. We have always stressed that it is up to Berne to decide when to reopen, but without any communication, the Federal Council leaves us completely uncertain and with little prospects.”

But there is a health situation to consider. Correct?

“The health situation has always been one of our main concerns, it wasn’t for nothing that we asked the Council of State if it was not appropriate to close our premises completely because it was impossible to guarantee the necessary safety for the consumer as well as for the employees. Completely aware that this would have involved enormous sacrifices for everyone involved.”

But then you made some proposals?

“The Federal Council was presented with an outline plan limiting the number of guests per square metre, a minimum distance between tables and the use of protective masks, at least behind the scenes. For the service, masks should only be worn if the social distance cannot be respected. Measures which, together with other restrictive rules, would have at least allowed us to proceed.”

In a recent Facebook post you made a desperate plea: “Tell us what death we must die of.” Who was it addressed to?

“To the entire political world, at the federal level but especially at the cantonal level. Because the measures taken to overcome the difficulties of forced closure have had the effect of a drop in the ocean, aimed at defending employees in the sector very well, but leaving many unanswered questions for entrepreneurs; just think of rents, allowances for independents, IPG for company representatives etc..”

Did many of your members take advantage of interest-free loans of up to half a million francs?

«I note that the guarantees are interest-free only for the first year. Whether willingly or not, this is additional debt for companies that have already been put to the test financially. It must be remembered that debts should be made to pay for investments, not to pay current expenses. In the long run, this situation leads to financial collapse. I would also like to remind you that several cantons have launched aid funds for the economic sectors (catering and sales) on a non-repayable basis, and here in Ticino nothing has been seen yet.”

Would you be able to start again overnight?

“It’s deceiving. A complex activity such as that of catering cannot just suddenly start up again by simply turning the key, it requires a thorough and complex planning: the cleaning, ordering of goods, etc. And, of course, to the implementation of all the necessary essential preventative measures and the staff work schedule. Without a timeframe it becomes very complicated. Not giving outlooks and prospects I consider shows some lack of respect.”

But is what you’re going through really “slow agony” as you wrote?

“In the absence of a timeframe, our sector finds itself in agony, realising that the time available to limit the damage is becoming increasingly short. I’d like to point out one essential aspect: March has been lost, April is now passing and summer is looming. And in this context, by no means cheering, we realize that we are a one-season canton. This uncertainty only amplifies the fears of the catering industry that it may not survive COVID-19. In the long run, the use of short-time work will no longer be sufficient to guarantee solvency and there will be forced redundancies, amplifying the social crisis that the emergency has already created.”

Are you still convinced that you can reopen everyone by the summer, say by early July?

“The hope remains that we will be able to reopen, albeit at a reduced pace, by mid-June, so that we can take advantage of the summer season and with it the possibility of being able to guarantee social distancing on our terraces. It being understood that the fear of contagion does not have the upper hand among the public, resulting in a very low rate according to the capacity, a factor that would give us the coup de grace.”

Which categories suffer the most from the lockdown?

“Those typically summer-season structures such as grottoes and lidos, whose strength lies in the summer months, it is essential for them to be able to open as soon as possible.

Are you in contact with Ticino Turismo? What about the government or the director of the Department of Finance and Economy, Christian Vitta?

“As a category representative on the Board of Directors of Ticino Turismo I am in close contact with the other players in the world of tourism and above all with the President of the Government and Mr Vitta of DFE. This guarantees a pragmatic and immediate approach in the search for effective regional relaunch, identifying the tourist’s tipping point and getting ahead of our direct competitors. 2020 tourism will be heavily internal, thereby turning to the Swiss market, we must be ready because surely the competitors will be just as fierce and the danger of dog-eat-dog is more sure than ever.”

At this point can you imagine a cancellation of all the big summer events in Ticino?

“Unfortunately, everything indicates a willingness on the part of the federal authorities to ban any activity with more than a thousand people until the end of August, but even in this case there is nothing concrete, but above all well-defined timeframe. Let us not forget that the almost certainty of the cancellation of national major events will deprive the catering and hotel industry of an important source.”

The proposal for a restricted number emerges periodically, so that everyone can have enough work to live. It may be cynical, but did you think it could happen as a result of the coronavirus?

“The proposal for a numerus clausus remains perhaps the most effective way but it undermines the principle of the free market, we have noticed la slackening in sectors that made restricted numbers their pride.”

Is there a risk that many will never reopen?

“I believe that the crisis will bring with it a profound restructuring. We will find ourselves in a new future, malleable and unknown. It’s necessary to make a deep self-criticism, which will also bring inevitable closures.”

There are those who offer discounted vouchers to earn a few francs and secure customers at the recovery. Is it a good solution?

“The crisis has changed the world at an accelerated pace, so we need new answers. Surely the race to the bottom is not the correct answer, it would produce a devastating pernicious effect. New paths will have to be explored, the visit to the restaurants will have to be an unforgettable experience, the reception will have to be transversal, the marketing will have to be targeted because the best offer is useless if it remains unknown. But above all we will have to equip ourselves to guarantee reassuring liquidity, avoiding counterproductive and harmful attacks.”

Do you ever dream of reopening accompanied by a prolonged ban on going to Italy?

“I have always seen competition as an opportunity to improve, so I don’t think that the ban on going to restaurants in Italy is a viable and practicable way, we must rather believe in our product, focus on quality by leveraging the patriotism of the Ticinese, grabbing them literally by the throat.”

From 27 (April) at the federal level some reopening is planned. Do you see any areas that will benefit from it, similar to yours?

“I believe that any sector that makes human contact an essential aspect can be compared to our own, hairdressers, beauticians or any shop, so if solutions have been found that allow them to reopen, I hope that the same measure should also apply to catering, there must be a viable way to reopen safely in a relatively short time. We know our industry inside out and as professionals we have also presented, as already mentioned, valid solutions.”

Ticino is full of bars, restaurants and take-away food outlets also. In the past, it has been said that supply exceeds demand, creating problems. Have you thought about this situation of late?

“As already stated, this crisis allows us to take an X-ray of the entire sector and of our partners and competitors. In the end we will have to draw the necessary conclusions, even if painful, but we cannot afford another catastrophic situation in terms of the structural soundness of our companies as there has been recently.”

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