Employers of Hungary’s catering industry have explained the devastation the coronavirus pandemic has caused on their businesses. The Hungarian Gastronomic Association has offered solutions.
The protests at Heroes’ Square calling for the reopening of catering businesses have been effective in bringing attention to the issue, but now people are looking for legal solutions.
The main issue catering businesses have is that they cannot function well enough to stay in business due to coronavirus restrictions.
Reopening is not a viable solution, since the Hungarian government has made penalties so severe, that it would be worse than the struggle of remaining closed.
Both suspensions and fines have become more severe. The police no longer decide whether they are going to shut down the store for an extended amount of time after its reopening. The government decree makes the business’ shutdown mandatory.
The only aspect of the penalty which can be different for each case is the fine, which has been increased to be between 2,800 and 14,00 euros.
Business Owners Provide a Damage Report
Business owners from popular Budapest establishments such as Szimpla Kert, Központ, and Kandalló told 24.hu about the difficulties the pandemic has caused for them and their employees.
Ábel Zsendovics, co-owner of Szimpla Kert, said that profits in 2020 were 4 percent of what they were in 2019. To deal with the drop in business, Szimpla Kert immediately let go of 50-60 workers in the fall, but once they saw that they could no longer pay their employees, they let them all go.
László Papp, co-owner of Központ, says most businesses had already expended what reserves they had following the spring lockdown, resulting in a much harsher lockdown in the fall.
This helps explain the recent reopening of Központ, which resulted in a 60 day suspension.
Employees went to seek work in other sectors, but of course beginning a completely different job is not easy.
According to Ádám Ecseri, co-owner of Kandalló, “a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding” in the catering industry. Despite this, Ecseri said that his organization does not support the “guerrilla approach” of current protests.
László Kovács, president of the Hungarian Catering Industry Association (MVI) told the news portal that while the frustration and desperation of protestors is understandable, it is wrong to promote retaliation against the government. The laws which have been put in place, he says, were done so in the interest of the Hungarian people.
While not all catering businesses agree with the approach of the protestors, it is clear that both groups have the same goal.
Mayor of Szombathely Speaks Up
András Nemény, Mayor of Szombathely, held a video conference on his Facebook page regarding the pandemic situation, during which he brought up the difficulties catering businesses are facing.
The Socialist politician said he does not understand why industrial kitchens in government buildings are open for representatives from around the world to sit down and eat, but catering businesses must remain closed.
Indeed the canteen on Kacsa utca in Buda, which is near the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has been allowed to remain open despite the pandemic.
The business remains legally operable, even though COVID protocols, such as maintaining 1.5 meters between tables, are not completely followed, and it can get very crowded.
The owner of the canteen does not see the logic in the shut down of the catering industry. He says the only difference between the two dining areas is that the canteen cannot offer alcohol, they are open for four hours, and people spend about 20 minutes dining
While Nemény does not blame businesses that have remained open or their customers for this discrepancy, he does offer solutions for struggling businesses.
The mayor provides two approaches the city will take to assist business owners.
First, they will make the use of public spaces free until the end of 2021. Second, following the legislated reopening of stores, the city will assist with marketing activities, to encourage Szombathely residents to support local restaurants, cafés, and pubs.
The Hungarian Gastronomic Association Offers Solutions for the Catering Industry
The Hungarian Gastronomic Association has created a list of recommendations which could help facilitate the resurgence of the catering industry, and halt the potential bankruptcy of countless Hungarian businesses.
In their statement to 24.hu, they start by emphasizing:
The catering industry has come into a difficult situation. Jobs in restaurants, hotels, and the tourism industry are being lost en masse. Many people are ultimately leaving the field, and a huge bankruptcy is coming into effect”
According to the organization, this is not an issue which only catering businesses face. The struggle is felt by suppliers, producers, customers, and our entire society.
Their recommendations package was signed by a number of notable Budapest individuals, such as Károly Gerendai, founder of Sziget Festival and owner of Hungary’s first Michelin-star restuarant, Costes.
The requests which can be found in their recommendations package include:
- Taking over store’s rent payments incurred during coronavirus restrictions
- Immediate wage subsidy payments on the 10th day of each month
- Increasing wage subsidies to 75% of payment while pandemic restrictions are in effect
- The waving or transfer of taxes and debts accrued during restrictions while stores had no income
- Waving reservation fees for catering terraces in 2021 as well
- Opening stores again following strict COVID protocols, taking into consideration international and domestic examples, beginning March first at the latest
At this point, restaurants which do not take part in the mass reopening of stores movement are likely doing so in hopes that the suggestions of the Hungarian Gastronomic Association will be accepted. if mutual cooperation between the government and catering businesses can be achieved, it will be beneficial for those businesses which did not attempt to reopen too early, and have not faced penalties of suspension.
In the featured photo, a waitress brings coffee to customers at a café in Nyíregyháza, in May 4, 2020, when terraces could remain open. Featured photo by Attila Balázs/MTI