“We are not witnessing an era of change but a change of era”: Giovanni Ballarini, economist at the Accademia dei Georgofili, speaks of a “gastronomic bubble” that has grown out of all proportion and is about to burst. In Italy before the Corona Virus, there were over 400,000 large and small catering businesses that divided 86 billion Euros (the estimated value of the lunches and dinners of Italians away from home) and this is only part of the turnover generated by catering because all the other contributions from the food chain, from agricultural production to cookery books and TV programmes, should be added.
Even before the pandemic, there were clear signs that the sector was experiencing excesses. In Italy in 2018 restaurants and trattorias had a negative balance of more than 12,000 establishments with a very high turnover (“after one year a quarter of new restaurants closed and those not exceeding five years were 57%”). Today you can hear apocalypse figures. If before Covid-19 the competitive advantage of the restaurant industry was in the quality/price ratio, in times of Corona virus we must add the ability to reinvent the profession undermined by the social distance and the fall in purchasing power of families, and the crisis of tourism on which tens of thousands of establishments depend. Catering, apart from rare activities with a solid image mostly linked to the presence of important chefs, will focus on the need to provide meals to people who work away from home or away from home and the need for quality food tasting that has always been one of the main springs (along with sociality) to go to the restaurant. Some restaurateurs have been working on this last opportunity, at the moment favoured by the isolation of the population in their homes, which represent interesting case histories, weak signs of a perhaps irreversible transformation, which is certainly not an alternative to traditional catering, but which is growing new business niches.
Take-away food and food delivery, from systems to round out restaurant entrances with waiters transformed into riders, represent for those who manage to adapt, to associate, to make the best use of technology and social communication, a chance of survival and a potentially interesting business. Innovation and genius and not only executive ability in the kitchen will increasingly be the salt of the business. In April, in the middle of a pandemic, 14 restaurateurs who manage about twenty businesses in the Milan area, in agreement with Just Eat, the leading app for ordering lunch and dinner at home, launched the “The Family” service, which consists in the home delivery of semi-ready and semi-finished dishes that “expert domestic chefs” complete (without spending hours at the stove!) to eat well and for the satisfaction of surprising friends and family.
What will push people again towards traditional catering that will manage to escape the Covid-19, will be the need for sociality, in addition to good taste, quality or necessity. “When the recovery comes, people may come out less, but they will want the best and enjoy even more dishes and context, said chef Fabrizio Albini in an interview circulated on socials, so we will have to find new ways to amaze and pamper our customers.