Screens, social distancing, masks, constant cleaning, diminished room capacity, “Covid-free” stamps… gloves? Are gloves still in the protocol or is hand sanitizer enough? What exactly are the municipality’s formal requirements for opening or expanding a terrace? Why are restaurants across the board forced to operate at 40 percent capacity for indoor seating when the alternative – requiring a certain amount of space between tables – would allow places with larger rooms to do more business?
These are the questions that surface in our conversations with Barcelona’s restaurant owners as they try to get back on their feet. Josep María Solé, co-owner of the iconic La Cova Fumada in La Barceloneta, recounts having to ask a client at the door to put on their mask before coming inside – otherwise, they risk a fine from the City Council. The client was unhappy about having to return home to get a mask, and Josep Maria even more so at being forced to say such a thing to a client. Maria Cots, from the restaurant TocaTeca in Sant Andreu, is waiting for a license to expand their terrace, which is surrounded by ample space. But the City Council has been quite selective when it comes to granting these licenses, and she’s not sure they’ll get it. As Rafa Jordana, owner of La Bodega de’n Rafel says, “the clients are very excited, while the owners not so much.”
When we dreamed of returning to our favorite restaurants and bars, we didn’t picture waiters in masks and sparse terrace seating. We were imagining how it would feel to laugh with friends and share delicious tapas as day morphed into night. Yet even with new health regulations and long waits for one of the few tables, we euphorically returned to Barcelona’s terraces, ordering our favorite tapas with devotion, even just for takeaway, “Our clients ordered even more bombas [their iconic take on potato croquettes] than they normally would before Covid. It was astonishing,” says Josep María of La Cova Fumada.
The modifications to bars and restaurant are, thankfully, more discreet than what people were predicting in the thick of the pandemic. But trying to stay afloat while also taking the necessary precautions to prevent a new outbreak feels like an impossible balancing act for business owners of all shapes and sizes. In April, the restaurant industry calculated that without the government’s help, around 50 percent of the 314,000 food and drink establishments in Spain will disappear; with the proper help, however, that figure could drop to around 25 percent. As Rafa Jordana of La Bodega de’n Rafel put it, “small neighborhood bodegas don’t have the muscle of the big restaurant groups” – nor do they have the same financial cushion.
We want to support our favorite spots. We want them to survive. Walking into these bars and restaurants after being away for months made us deliriously happy – saying hello to the bartender and grabbing a sacred carajillo, a coffee with a kick of Catalan brandy, felt so normal and yet so extraordinary. We can only hope that restaurant industry representatives are able to get through to policymakers, and that the owners of our favorite spots will soon be able to enjoy this reopening as much as we do.
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