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Pandemic to bring major changes to restaurant business in Hungary

Retail

The Budapest Business Journal talks with Anikó and Fausto Di Vora, co-owners of Italian restaurant Fausto’s, about the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on the restaurant industry in general and on Fausto’s itself.

BBJ: The restaurant suspended its operations on March 16 due to the coronavirus pandemic. How are you preparing for reopening once the epidemiological situation eases? Will there be protective measures for employees?

Fausto’s: Naturally, every catering establishment will need to replan its method of operating in the light of the changed situation. We wish we were at a point where we could begin preparations, but we think that reopening restaurants will only happen several long months later, and there will surely be new safety regulations from the authorities.

One of the most important aspects will be ensuring the appropriate distance between guests. We are in a fortunate situation, as the restaurant has a large guest area on three floors, so we will be able to take care of this easily.

It would also be helpful if rapid tests would become available by then, which we could use to test our employees, even on a weekly basis. This is very important and we will do this one way or the other.

Wearing masks will certainly be necessary for the chefs, and we will consider it for our servers as well; our guests would surely appreciate it.

By the way, in Italy, where it looks like restaurants could reopen in the beginning of summer, the current thinking is that a minimum distance of two meters between guests and masks for the entire staff will be required.


Fausto Di Vora

BBJ: How are you helping your employees while the restaurant is closed?

F: We have never even considered laying off our employees. We were among the first to announce we were closing, days before limitations on the opening hours of restaurants were imposed. When we made the decision and discussed the further steps with the staff, we saw that they all calmed down.

They knew that they would have to make ends meet on a lower salary, but they did not mind, as everybody was filled with fear when coming to work during the last week. They received their paychecks for March, and are currently on paid leave.

We have been working together for years, and none of us have ever rested so much at one go; none of them have ever been able to spend so much time with their families and children, looking at the positive side. However, this can only be a peaceful rest if they have at least a minimal financial security and see where they could return to.

BBJ: Are you planning to introduce alternative business models, such as home deliveries, if the state of emergency persists for a prolonged period?

F: When we decided to close, we did not consider home deliveries, partially because we don’t think it suits our cuisine. Also, we thought that, as in the case of nearby countries, life would slowly start again in a regulated fashion after two months of very strict curfew regulations.

Today, it can be seen that the model used here is much more permissive in terms of restricting the movement of people, so in the case of Hungary, the reopening of restaurants may be more delayed. 

In the meantime, customers call us a lot expressing interest in home deliveries, so from May 1, we will try to prepare our guests’ favorite dishes in a way that they could enjoy them as if they were eating it here. This situation will be completely new to us too, but we cannot sit idly, possibly until fall.

BBJ: Do you expect your clientele to change as a result of the pandemic, for example that there will be fewer tourists?

F: Our restaurant became 26 years old this year, and ever since opening it has built its operation on the satisfaction of Hungarian and international guests living in Hungary. Naturally, our good reputation attracted many foreign tourists, but we have always put an emphasis on the domestic clientele, it was our key aim to have them return to us regularly.

We have developed our cuisine, selection, dishes, menu, and our entire structure of operation keeping this aspect in mind, even if it went against the trends. This is the “Fausto’s philosophy”, so this has to work in the future.

Sadly, we will not see foreign guests for a good while, and while will be somewhat of a setback, a good part of our clientele is domestic returning customers, who have been visiting us for many years, a number of them even on a weekly basis. We will continue to do our best, and we are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to once again pay back the trust our guests have vested in us for years.

BBJ: What will be the most permanent effects of the pandemic on the domestic restaurant business?

F: As every player in the sector is facing hard times, it will be transformed; there will be a kind of cleanup, which is not necessarily a problem. Sadly, many places will close due to the lack of tourists, but we think that most of the really good establishments are here to stay, reopening in a reformed, maybe transformed fashion.

The sector’s labor market will change as well, returning to a more normal state. It will be the end of far-fetched employee demands without the performance to back it up. However, a professional and reliable workforce will remain of the same value, they will still be able to feel safe. 

We are optimistic; we have experienced many difficulties over the years, this current crisis, although it will unfortunately do a lot of damage, can also bring about the renewal of businesses operating on strict professional foundations and principles, which will be a welcome benefit for domestic guests.

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