Monday, 18/05/2020

Six hundred catering, entertainment and hospitality professionals across Greece, went on a virtual visit to Yanoulis Chalepas hall at the Cultural Foundation of Tinos, to participate in the marathon on-line discussion about the next day in Catering, Entertainment and Hospitality sectors, titled “MOVING INTO UNCHARTED WATERS”.

The on-line discussion was an initiative by the awarded Greek Brewery NISSOS and the largest and oldest distributor of spirits, wines and beers, AMVYX. According to the organisers, this was a discussion “to retrace our route following the unprecedented forced business interruption for three months”.

The marathon on-line discussion, which was coordinated by the NISSOS brewery owner Alexandros Kouris, continued for 5 hours, during which Minister of Finance Christos Staikouras, Deputy Minister of Finance, for Fiscal Policy Theodoros Skylakakis, and President of the Greek National Public Health Organization (NPHO) Panagiotis Arkoumaneas, took a stand.
Minister of Finance Christos Staikouras presented support measures across three axes:
1. Subsidise excess working time, that is working hours that businesses cannot utilise when operating in limited capacity, through the EU SURE instrument. As a result, reduced working time will not decrease employees’ income.
2. Enhance liquidity through a second refund of the advance payment for businesses that suffered reduced sales in April and May, and by utilising a second Entrepreneurship Fund, as well as an additional “bazooka” scheme, as he named it, for loans guaranteed by the Greek State up to 30%-40%.
3. Extraordinary tax reductions for a certain period, which will soon be announced by the Prime Minister.

Deputy Minister of Finance, for Fiscal Policy Theodoros Skylakakis delivered a welcoming speech.
President of NPHO Panagiotis Arkoumaneas highlighted that our attitude and successful results contributed to rebranding Greece, as we maintained the status of the most safe destination in Southern Europe, upgrading our tourism product. NPHO will continue to vigorously stand by citizens throughout the summer period, through its 500 mobile teams providing services across the country and through the new naval teams that were formed to serve the Aegean islands -mostly the isolated ones- and which will begin operating on 25 May.
Then, a food-for-thought video was broadcasted, which featured Greek and foreign experts, food services strategic consultants, food scientists, psychologists, inspectors and architects. They shared their thoughts on this new reality in food services during a time of uncertainty and insecurity, and made suggestions for practical and business issues.
“Let’s prepare for the worst and hope for the best” said the English strategy consultant Vaughn Tan, who suggested creating a sign to signal to customers which business have committed to applying certain best practices. “These days of uncertainty also have an optimistic and creative aspect: uncertainty provides us with the opportunity to rethink our business and test business solutions that were not required before.”
“We expect the customer to be more suspicious, looking out for risks. A sense of control, intimacy and empathy are the best tools in handling such situations” said Elena Spanou, Psychologist, Neuroscientist and Psychotherapist.
“No one can certify that a space is COVID-19 free. However, we can certify that the business has done everything in its power in terms of prevention. That is that the business has adopted all required measures specified by international standards, international organisations and the State, to protect both the business and its customers from the pandemic” said Giorgos Briskolas, President of Eurocert, the largest Greek certification organisation.
“Clean hands are better that dirty gloves!” highlighted Konstantinos Karavasilis, food scientist. “From now on, our brain should work like a computer. Everything we have been told about hygiene should be applied to the letter. We should become aware of our personal responsibility and have the courage to correct any wrong actions before any risks arise.”
“We should not turn a restaurant into a hospital or a clinic, merely to put customers at ease. Clear messages are required, but not of hospital type” mentioned Bernard Boutboul, the French strategy consultant at Gira Conseil. “We should also be more flexible. A luxurious restaurant should be able to try out new business solutions, such as ‘drive, without drive’.”
“Currently, legislation is based on a philosophy of overcrowding. Therefore, this is the time for radical measures. For restaurants to become sustainable, rent should be reduced to one third!” highlighted Tasos Georgatzis, architect at Urban Soul Project. According to Darren Comber, architect at Scott Brownrigg, who has designed the new Istanbul airport, “There will be a huge shift in our attitude in terms of how we use space and buildings.” “I think that the COVID-19 experience will provide us with good things. It will not place a burden on us to carry for a long time, rather it will provoke thoughts that will further improve the food industry” noted Michalis Mavroleon, architect, reminding how COVID-19 could provide us with an exceptionally useful gift.
Then, the following presentations were made: Dimitris Mavros, MRB, presented the findings of his survey on how coronavirus crisis affected our psychology and reactions. Alexis Damalas, Financial Advisory Services Leader at Deloitte, analysed the conclusions drawn from Deloitte’s latest report on food services and the critical issues these businesses are about to face, which could become insurmountable unless complementary measures are adopted. Professor Dimitris Bouchalis announced his relatively gloomy predictions for tourism in 2020. Panos Deligiannis, reporter, also shared his thoughts.
The everyday heroes, professionals and entrepreneurs in the catering, entertainment and hospitality sectors followed. Dina Nikolaou described the climate in the food industry in France. Stavros Mitsis, hotel owner, and Giorgos Tsirikos, barman and one of the creators of Three Cents soft drinks, took a stand. Aris Vezenes, co-founder of the Initiative for Food Services, represented the initiative and made an impactful statement:
“To meet the challenges and keep our customers satisfied, operating changes are required in terms of hygiene specifications, space planning and even air conditioning.
Yet, what our industry wants is equally important. First, we want the food services sector to enjoy the understanding and respect it deserves. 100,000 businesses operate in Greece, offering 450,000 jobs (permanent and seasonal), therefore employing 12% of the country’s total labour force.
We have an annual turnover of € 2.8-3.5 billion, not including restaurants run by hotels.
We are the backbone of the social fabric, as we only retain 10% of this income, while the remaining is channelled to our suppliers and associates.
Before proceeding with lowering our prices and adjusting our menus, as everyone demands, we need to consider how much we can achieve in a very short time.
Many have suffered a psychological shock, the sector has lost faith. We are striving to stand on our feet. The next day will not be an easy one, yet we need to move forward. Nonetheless, we also need the State to provide us with the appropriate tools to regroup. We cannot resume our operations without having a specific protocol to protect both our customers and our people. In Singapore, for example, during the first two weeks, nobody could go to a restaurant without a reservation. The establishment manager would use infrared thermometers to take the body temperature, customers would sign a solemn statement that they do not carry the virus, and at the end of the night police would collect the reports.
Is it possible to adopt similar measures in Greece? Some of my colleagues argue that such measures cancel out socialising.
Practical measures and correct information are required. The government has noble intents, yet they need to be fast-tracked.
When Italy or Germany immediately reduced VAT rates, it is not acceptable for us to delay that much. We should not burn out in warm-up just because of bureaucracy. Faster processes are required for people who wish to expand to delivery services or sell certain products from their shops. Financing is also a crucial issue. We ask for banks that simply manage EU funds to be under stricter supervision. They need to make clear what they need from us. Anyone who sought for financing, came back with questions. No grey zones should exist in lending. Finally, for those demanding extensive price reductions, I find it inconceivable for us to have to lower our prices upon resuming operations, when grocery prices have increased by 150% and people empty super-market shelves. Moreover, regarding the shorter menu, as was the case in Paris for example, we need to know that consumers are willing to accept shorter menus and domestic products.”
Afterwards, Panos Almirantis, hospitality professional, Vaggelis Psofidis, wine manager, Michalis Chasikos, Cretan chef, and Anastasios Pediaditis, F&B consultant, spoke. Nikos Ioannou talked about e-commerce and technology in food services, Panagiotis Giannakos talked on behalf of catering services and finally Ilias Mamalakis explained how he experienced the lock-down through the perspective of his shops that offer delivery services.

The discussion went on for 5 hours! In brief, the discussion covered the following:

1. All of us comprising the catering, entertainment and hospitality ecosystem, have both the responsibility and the motivation to adopt effective prevention measures. We can save many lives and assets, both ours and others’.
2. In an optimistic scenario, we shall leave behind us all these new practices we need to adopt today for this difficult intermediate period, once everybody is vaccinated and has developed immunity. In such case, we will easily return to the way we operated before COVID-19. Better yet, the optimum scenario would be for us to emerge from this crisis better and improved. This crisis offers us an excellent opportunity to become better! It is a chance to apply standards that we ought to apply regardless of the virus, as the experts highlighted. It is a chance to integrate technology into our way of operation, for our protection, but also for improving processes, lowering cost and stop wasting resources. Contactless interaction in public spaces or a well-designed and safe air conditioning system are investments that will prove useful regardless of COVID-19.
3. The post-COVID19 era has set the following universal requirements: 1. Safety 2. Distance, 3. Contactless interaction, 4. Hygiene and Protection, 5. Control, 6. Personal responsibility and 7. Solidarity
4. The three-month recess and the new requirements for more space per customer, investment in new equipment and the more complex and slow operation of catering, entertainment and hospitality businesses, significantly increase operating cost. Yet, at the same time they protect Greek society and lower the cost of health services, as well as the potential economic cost of a further economic halt! It is necessary to decrease indirect taxes, even if only temporarily, such as the VAT and the excise duties on alcohol and energy, to immediately boost operating income.
5. Paying tax advances calculated on 2019 profits, when there is no profit in 2020, makes no sense at all.
6. The catering, entertainment and hospitality ecosystem, all businesses, producers, manufacturers, wineries, breweries and other factory-suppliers, comprises the largest employer in the Greek economy. Hundreds of thousands of people and the famous “Greek Tourist Experience”, the spearhead of the Greek economy, depend on us. We need support, the same way we were providing support the years before!
7. We expect a new, crisis-specific, single, lower VAT rate to be implemented in food services (for all products, wine, beer etc.), as this will immediately boost our operating income. In 2016, amid the financial crisis, excise duty on beer doubled to further boost government revenues.
8. It’s time to decrease it, even if only temporarily, as the Greek rate is among the highest in the EU. For example, NISSOS beer costs € 1.82 in the supermarket, out of which € 0.45 goes to indirect taxation, VAT and excise duty. This is a rip-off!
9. Lowering VAT on coffee alone makes no impact to businesses except for coffee shops. Coffee is 100% imported, as opposed to wine, beer and traditional spirits, such as ouzo and tsipouro, that comprise over 25% of a restaurant’s operating profit.
10. Banks do not seem to share the government’s commitment on “easy” lending. Furthermore, they do not seem to be able to accommodate the required time frames. As a result, many businesses cannot obtain financing to meet June obligations (when post-dated cheques should be paid).
11. Also, there are still no specific protocols on personnel and customer safety for catering, entertainment and hospitality businesses.
12. Most people in our industry are experiencing depression. Many of us have given up and returned to the provinces. We are about to lose the valuable talent that upgrades our industry.
13. Licensing processes for additional activities should become simpler.
14. Rents should be lowered. Numbers don’t add up. Something should be done. A 40% decrease for two months does not solve any problems.
15. This was a dead year for conferences, exhibitions and social events.
16. Delivery did not cease operations, but it suffered losses.

Discussion material and presentations will soon be posted on our website