Andrea Berton returns to the Hôtel de Paris in Monte Carlo, while in Italy he is preparing to close his Milan restaurant once again. Can Covid and restaurant dining coexist?

I spent three years at the Hôtel de Paris, from ’92 to ’95, with Ducasse. Coming back to this venue, next to Louis XV, is beautiful.” Andrea Berton told us, through bittersweet memories, about the new temporary restaurant due to open in Monte Carlo, from December 23 to January 3. One of the cult destinations of haute cuisine. À la carte menu (including signatures taken from the broth menu is “his” Milanese-style risotto, also dishes designed for the occasion) and three tasting menus for the holidays, on 24 and 25 and 31 December. “I was contacted by Ivan Artolli, General Manager of the hotel, offering to design the holiday gastronomic proposal in one of the hotel’s restaurants. It’s both an honour and a responsibility for me to return to that place.” These days, the restaurant industry in Italy is under the crossfire of anti-Covid measures. A situation that Berton doesn’t hesitate to call a disaster: after more than a month of closure that was sprung on restaurateurs overnight and caught them with refrigerators full of merchandise (later donated to charity).” We reopened last Sunday, and we’re working, albeit at 50%: we’re serving about 30-35 people at lunch. Christmas eve and day, as well as the days right after we are full. Staying open would allow us to pay our expenses, and give us a breather.” All could be wiped out by the latest round of restrictions.

Monte Carlo vs Italy. The anti-Covid measures

Monaco, like the rest of the world, is facing the Covid emergency: “The restrictions there are less strict, restaurants are open, you can have lunch until 3 pm and dinner until 9.30 pm. After that nobody can linger in the premises.” The general situation? “People are very careful in following the rules, everyone wears a mask and respects distances and other indications.” So you’re in a less dramatic state of alert? “I noticed what I would call a situation of coexistence with the virus. There are rules, checks are carried out, and those who comply with all the parameters can be open and work. That”, he adds, “is how it should be. We, on the other hand, we prefer to close everyone and everything, to include in the restrictions even the many who adhere to all the rules and have adapted to health measures.” With the added insult and the damage of the hiccupping closures, like the newly implemented red zones: “We can’t close for an indefinite period, reopen for 3 days and then suddenly close again. The task force should make the decisions with a representative of the restaurant world who explains how things work, who makes it clear – for example – that these closures add difficulties and expenses to pre-existing issues.” It means losing money, ingredients, incurring charges to get an imposing machine back into gear, even with the engines off. How much does a company like Berton’s cost? “5,000 euros a day.

Support for activities: are they enough?

Aid measures, where in existence, are not enough to keep businesses going. “I’m not saying to do like in Germany, where 70% of the losses have been given in non-repayable form, but at least 40% or 50% is indispensable. Plus, non-repayable, otherwise it’s useless. A loan, even if at a favourable interest rate, in any case must be repaid; it’s a Catch-22”. Andrea Berton does the math. “What can a company that had a turnover of 3 million euros in 2019 and half of that in 2020 do with 40,000 or 50,000 euros? There needs to be a substantial non-repayable grant that allows not so much earning, but sufficient to pay management costs and expenses. We received 45,000 euros. Great, but what can I do with that sum? I have 60,000 euros per month of personnel costs alone.” Aware that the same difficulty affects all sectors – “but I speak for what I know” – and aware that perhaps there is a lack of funds for bigger support for companies. “But” he adds, “if the money is not available, whoever is appointed for that very task must find it.” Without compromise: politics must face emergencies, solve problems, administer and allow the recovery, otherwise we risk a débâcle. “A very serious damage to our system,” continues Berton. “We’ll see in the coming months how many businesses will close.

Individual initiatives

Restaurants can actually do something, if they’re allowed, look for individual solutions, like it was with the dinner bonds, which Andrea Berton – like many of his colleagues – put up for sale during the first and second lockdowns. These are particularly convenient vouchers, with which clients purchase a dinner or lunch in advance which can be redeemed when dining out is allowed again (no later than June 2021), thus supporting restaurants. For him, the response was impressive: over 1000 vouchers sold during the first lockdown, “I have to thank my customers who believe in us, buying the bonds while we are closed, they give us confidence in a moment that’s otherwise full of uncertainties, one thing I am grateful for.” And while the unknowns still weigh on the near future, he is preparing to put Plan B into motion. “We thought we would be open for Christmas lunch, but we are already thinking how to adapt the menu for delivery, as we will do for New Year’s Eve.” Waiting, of course, for better times.

Berton – Milan – via Mike Bongiorno 13 – 02 67075801- https://www.ristoranteberton.com/

Hôtel de Paris – Monaco – Place du Casino – +377 98 06 30 00 – https://www.montecarlosbm.com/it/hotel-monaco/hotel-paris-monte-carlo

by Antonella De Santis