Croatian Restaurants Say Coronavirus Measures Jeopardize Business

By 24 April 2020

April 24, 2020 — Croatian life began a slow march towards normalcy, with the announcement of incrementally-relaxed restrictions over the coming weeks. Restaurants and cafes claim the government's current plan will tank their business, hoping a return to normal comes sooner than expected.

Dalmatian restauranteurs said in interviews they will not have Plexiglas dividers in their establishments, nor will transparent barriers line their terraces this summer.

The Civil Protection Directorate's 11-point list of anti-coronavirus measures taking force on May 11 will increase costs, sink revenues and ruin guest's experiences, they argue, adding it's not even worth opening.

Most said they would prefer to keep their facilities closed until regulations soften, after which they would respond in two days by opening the facilities.

"Last year, at this time, we already had a lot of work and money," one caterer told Slobodna Dalmacija. "This year, we don't even make plans, everything stops."

The new measures would send operating costs skyrocketing, the source added. "A glass of water with coffee or lunch becomes too expensive for us. Because that glass of water now needs to be disinfected, sterilized. We're destroyed now."

Dalmatian chef Pero Savanović said the measures were unacceptable. In his tavern "Mediteran" in Primosten, guests usually sit packed tightly, with backs nearly touching.

"I cannot agree to the measures that are now set as the ultimatum," he said. "By adopting these XXXL measures, we are in a position of unprofitable business.

"At this time last year we were already working full steam," Savanović added. "This year we will wait until the last moment, hoping that someone above, from the decision-makers, will realize that we cannot work on the guest screening system."

A thinning crowd is just one problem. The added costs make the measures unmanageable. Savanović pegged the cost of plexiglass barriers for his terrace at HRK 100,000.

Still, many hope the coronavirus will subside, borders will reopen and tourists will come. Even in this scenario, Savanovic suggests the domestic guest may be key.

Even in the best-case scenario of all wealthy Croats dropping wads of kunas at every meal, Savanović said he'll have to cut staff. The price of labor will be reduced. Food and drink would be cheaper. And a new value system will be established in the catering market.

Savanovic said the measures are made by robots who are just waiting to have a chip installed. Restaurants do not serve a biological need for sustenance, but a social one. Plexiglass, Savanović said, makes this impossible.

"Even in the best conditions, only family restaurants will survive, and those with a quality offer," he said. "There will be order in the chaos, everything that was created for fast profits, poor quality, bad, will fall out of the game."

Well-known chef Duje Pisac said the coronavirus made an unholy mess. Even the luxury heritage hotel in Brac, which is filled by a deep-pocketed clientele has not opened its doors. If the measures are strict, they probably won't.

"How do you arrange breakfast under such conditions? It's hard," Pisac said. "How do you ensure physical distance at the pool? No way. Measures as they are now, and as announced, are deadly for us hospitality and hospitality workers."

He echoed Savanović's issues with the Plexiglass but also suggested wait staff dressed as surgeons won't help either. "Waiters' gloves? Yes, fine. But masks? I can accept them, but then it's not the same. It immediately alludes to danger, to distress."