Slow and Easy

17 Jun. 2020
Europe reopens. It will take time, but optimism reigns.

And so the day finally came: bars are reopening through Europe. Some have been opened for a month, others have just lifted the shutter up for the first time last week. All have stories to tell, lessons learned. We spoke with Dirk Hany (Bar am Wasser, Zürich, reopened May 11th), Armin Azadpour (Hunky Dory, Frankfurt, May 15th), Thanos Prunarus (Baba au Rum, Athens, May 25th), Lelos Georgopoulos (Clumsies, Odori, Frater & Soror…, Athens, May 25th), Mati Iriarte (Ginbo, Chapeau1987, Palma de Mallorca, May 25th) and Julien Escot (Aperture, Montpellier, June 2nd).

When the doors first reopened
« We had to keep a distance of 2 meters between each tables, which means we could only host 9 instead of 28 », says Dirk. In Germany, Armin tells us they had to give each table 5 square meters. « And we could only sit together people living at maximum 2 different addresses ». In a 100 square meter bars, that meant… 5 tables. Thankfully both bars were saved by outdoor seating, with an enlarged area in Zürich. In Greece, initially no customer was allowed inside. Outdoor only. « But it was raining all week the first week, which is very rare », says Thanos. « The first few days were weird », Lelos confims, « but thankfully on the weekend we were full ». Over in Mallorca, the sunny weather meant the terraces worked at full capacity. In Montpellier, « Aperture was slammed the first night », says Julien. « It was quieter after but the first weekend was excellent ».

The menus
Cocktail menus have become an art form over the last few years but in times of pandemic, everything that’s meant to be shareable is, well, banned. Bars have taken different approaches. One very popular option are QR Codes, which is the route taken by Armin. For Baba au Rum, Thanos opted for a one-use paper menu, that can be either recycled or taken home. In Mallorca, Mati has taken a completely different strategy: full speed ahead with a new, complex menu. No QR code here, though: the menu is available on Instagram ( « so you can access it at any time from anywhere ». It’s a smart move that we’re sure will soon be imitated, as it allows to still market your menu internationally even when you can’t physically travel.

A question of price
One thing is the drink’s selection. Another thing — equally if not more important — is pricing. Some bars have decided not to cut prices. Others do. None have raised them up although fixed costs remains while bars don’t work at full capacity. Thanos came up with « a new, small menu, with easier drinks, priced lower ». Lelos’ bars didn't change their offer, they just work with a shorter menu. At Dirk’s bar, they’ve postponed the launch of a new menu and work with a shorter list of classics. In each cases, it’s also about stock management, prep time, staff hours. At Aperture, Julien thought about taking similar steps but opted to actually strengthen his pre-pandemic offer: « I’m trying to make it more sexy. My thinking is that our prices are fair, we give high quality drinks and food. If we show we’re as good as we can be, we’ll make it through. » Armin also speaks about maintaining standards in terms of experience: « You have to make sure you give something to your clients that make it worth going out ». He is putting together DJ sessions, for example, to create a recognizable bar vibe in spite of all the restrictions.

First accounts
It’s early days and we shouldn’t be drawing any conclusion just yet. Still, it’s interesting to look at numbers. Unsurprisingly, the stronger the restrictions, the harder the fall. In Frankfurt, Armin is talking about numbers 70% lower. Thankfully, as of this week, he is able to receive groups of up to ten people, which should change the dynamic considerably. For Dirk, the fall is similar inside. But « on sunny days, we’re at 80-90% of our normal revenue ». Lelos talks about 50 to 70%, depending on days.  For Mati, it was about 70%.

All are cautiously optimistic. For Dirk, things depend on nice weather throughout the summer. Lelos is « very positive about the future », but thinks people need time. According to Julien, in Montpellier, they’re ready: « I think people are now going out as they used to ». Same feeling in Mallorca: « People really want to go out, but it’s clear that people are getting ready for the economical downturn and are more careful. I think we’ll be fine. »  « We’re starting from scratch », concludes Armin, « but sooner or later we will be good ».

Weeks and months of uncertainty are ahead of us. But at least, the mood is not as grim as it was very recently. Bars are back. Slowly.

François Monti