It’s Day 49 of our nationwide lockdown.
This time last year, we were jockeying for prime terraza position to welcome the Spring with chilled glasses of vermut firmly in hand. Now, the streets of Madrid are seeped in silence, its usual outdoor orchestra is on mute. No bass sounds of luggage wheels dragging on cobblestones, no wine glasses clinking, no steady percussion of forks tapping against plates, and most of all, no chorus of voices of animated people gathering in outdoor cafés and restaurants.
The good news is that we’re past the peak, and the Spanish government just announced a phased plan to gradually reopen the country. Yet the weeks of lockdown during this coronavirus pandemic have sent the restaurant industry on life support, not just in Spain, but all over the world.
Here in Spain, the services sector (which includes the tourism and hospitality industry) contributes a whopping 67% to the country’s GDP. Small restaurant businesses have been particularly hit hard — and even if they can start operating again soon, recovery will take a while as they’ll need to reduce their capacity to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
I reached out to some of my favourite restaurants and deliveries to ask how they were doing, and more importantly, if there were ways we could help them weather these incredibly difficult economic times.
For co-proprietors Yuli M. and Rod R. of Trikki Cuisine (my go-to comfort zone for fried green tomatoes and gumbo), the lockdown has led them to shift to a delivery and takeaway model for the first time. Usually, on bright spring and summer days, their terrazas would be prime real estate and you’d have to wait in line to get an outdoor table. Yuli and Rod shared that anticipating the unknown has prompted them to be more prepared and make quick decisions in light of the situation, saying, “We are going to have to implement take away, delivery and reduce our capacity in our dining room and outside in our terrace [once they reopen.”
For my other gastro haven, Sabor Nusantara , shifting to the delivery model has not been an option. “Since we’re unable to open physically we’re at a huge disadvantage when it comes to income,” said Nia S. of their family-run Indonesian restaurant. “For us personally [delivery] is not worth it, our spendings would far outweigh our income. If we were to open, maybe we would do well for the first week as everybody wants a taste of our food again, but then after the first week or two our sales probably wouldn’t be as stable”.
Ivan V., a personal friend and co-proprietor of food delivery Refusión, which hires refugees as cooks, recounted that even if food deliveries have been allowed to stay open, they had to close down at the onset of Madrid’s lockdown when two of their workers fell ill, very likely with COVID-19. “Now we are pondering when to reopen,” he said. “We will probably still wait until mid-May. Even though we have been able to control our expenses during the lockdown, we are very worried that sales will be greatly reduced by the crisis.” Ivan revealed that at the very least they have been offered an ICO (Credit Institute Official) loan — a government loan with very low interest rates offered to SMEs, self-employed workers and public authorities. “We have also been offered to delay the payment of taxes, and we applied for an ERTE as well”. (The ERTE — Expediente de Regulación Temporal de Empleo — is a mechanism in place that allows companies to temporarily furlough its employees during a force majeure period, in this case the coronavirus crisis that led to Spain’s state of emergency.)
7 ways you can help!
Although there’s little we can do at this time as we wait out the quarantine period, there are concrete ways that you can help out Madrid’s restaurants, especially if you’re one of the lucky ones who can afford to order and eat out during this crisis. Here is a list of helpful tips — as suggested by restaurant owners themselves:
1. Order delivery / takeaway
Even if they’ve had to close, several restaurants are still offering takeaway and delivery services. Check out Kitchen 154’s ready-to-cook vaccum sealed takeaway ribs, curry vindaloo, chicken wings and more which you can prepare by immersing them in hot water for 10 minutes. While you’re at it, I highly recommend checking out their “Manual de Apocalipsis ” where they have awesome Asian recipes such as Thai salads, “Quarantine Chow Mein” and fried rice “Like in a Chinese Restaurant”).
2. Buy “bonos” or restaurant credits
This is part of the campaign #SalvemosNuestrosRestaurantes (Save Our Restaurants) by El Tenedor — you can search for restaurants and buy prepaid credits online in advance, and then claim them later on when restaurants are allowed to reopen.
Another platform to purchase bonos is Yo Regalo Cuarencena, which covers all regions in Spain.
3. Support small and local businesses – including markets and grocers
While it’s super convenient to order online from Amazon or shop at your nearest grocery chain, try to detour also to your local fruit vendors and local markets — not only will you help them out during these challenging times, you could also save a lot of money. Just the other day, my local Bangladeshi-owned fruit and veggie shop gave me incredibly generous stalks of parsley and cilantro for being a loyal patron!
4. Reserve tables in advance
This is a good habit to adopt as soon as restaurants open once more. Suggests Trikki’s Rod R., “Once we reopen and plan during the different stages set by the government, we do ask for collaboration from our customers, since we are limited with the tables and space. Make reservations with time in advance.”
5. Limit your dining time to increase table turnover
I can’t emphasize this enough — as restaurants will have to run at reduced capacity even if the quarantine is lifted, it’d be good to help them out by not taking too much time eating so they can turn over tables faster and optimize customer capacity.
Though tipping is not a European habit, now would be a good time to give a little extra (if you can), to bar and wait staff.
7. Take food photos and promote your favourite small businesses
Snap away at those plates and promote their delivery/ takeaway services on your social media or Whatsapp. And when they reopen, plan group dinners if you can.
Any other ways you can think of to help the restaurant sector? I’d love to know!
Here’s looking forward to better, brighter days ahead in Madrid when we can all sit once again on shared tables.