“It is our goal to have restaurants open for business again quickly.”

Interview with Daniel Borner

In an interview, Daniel Borner, director of GastroSuisse, explains how the association supports its members through the current challenges and shares its view on coronavirus vaccinations.

Daniel Borner, director of GastroSuisse (Photo: Daniel Winkler)

Daniel Borner, director of GastroSuisse (Photo: Daniel Winkler)

Mr. Borner, when was your last visit to a restaurant?

Knowing that restaurants would have to close on 22 December, my family and I enjoyed a delicious evening meal at a place not too far from where we live, in the central part of the canton of Thurgau. That was on 19 December. We also generally started eating out much more than average from the end of the lockdown to the fall, to show solidarity with the industry.

The coronavirus pandemic is a major health, political, societal and above all economic issue in Switzerland, and the catering industry has been hit particularly hard in the current climate. What are the challenges facing the sector today?

The catering industry has been massively affected by this crisis since it began last March. First it was the dreadful 50-person rule that came into force overnight, then the eight-week lockdown, and later the requirement that tables had to be spaced two meters apart, which made it financially impossible to continue operating.

Even if many restaurants were able to do good business again over the summer, every public comment on the potential risks of eating out was poison for the industry. The number of new reservations in restaurants plummeted in late summer, the day after a member of the National Covid-19 Task Force spoke publicly about the potential for infection, and existing bookings were canceled en masse. This was followed by the re-closing of restaurants in Western Switzerland and the introduction of an intolerable closing time of 7pm for their counterparts in the German-speaking cantons.

The battle for survival really started for many businesses when the current lockdown began on 22 December. No business, however well positioned, can come through turbulence like this unscathed. 

The Federal Council has provided liquidity assistance to Swiss firms through its Covid-19 loan scheme. To what extent can the catering industry benefit from this, and what is GastroSuisse’s position on the scheme?

Our crisis management team quickly came to the conclusion that businesses would need to receive liquidity immediately. This was also one of the first demands that we presented to Guy Parmelin, the Minister of Economic Affairs. The appointment that we were promised later transformed into the first round table discussion with trade associations.

The quick solution of providing Covid-19 loans through the banks was a very good one for our industry. It helped out a lot of businesses in the first few months. We have always been really appreciative of the government’s quick response. 

In your interview with GastroJournal, you said that you are supporting your members through immediate action and information sheets. What suggestions do you have for them in addition to applying for short-time work?

It has to be said that this is still an ongoing process. We inform our members about every situation and restriction affecting the sector and summarize the most important points in our information sheets. These cover all possible topics regarding the steps to take to close restaurants, as well as preparations for re-opening, short-time work, compensation for loss of earnings, work organization, safety concepts and hygiene measures, rent, credit systems and much more besides.

At peak times, we were taking over 2,000 calls and processing hundreds of e-mails each week.  

The debate between pro- and anti-vaccine supporters is in full swing. What is GastroSuisse’s position on this issue? Are you recommending to your members that they should be vaccinated?

GastroSuisse hasn’t made any recommendations on this issue as of yet. In our view, those who are most vulnerable and most at risk of infection should be protected. That said, it’s something that our members have to decide for themselves – our personal views are separate from our views as a business.

On a side note, I recently watched an interesting documentary about this very topic. It showed how the WHO managed to almost completely eradicate smallpox in the 1960s with the help of a global vaccination campaign. It was impressive how physicians traveled to the most remote corners of the world to vaccinate people. 

There are other issues on GastroSuisse’s agenda besides the coronavirus, such as the “Fair Price Initiative”, of which the association was one of the initiators. Why is this initiative important for the hospitality industry and how well do you think it will fare in the referendum?

Many foreign companies are closing off their sales channels and are therefore imposing excessive surcharges on Swiss consumers. This is jeopardizing the ability of local businesses and SMEs to compete. Unlike large, international corporations, these firms often cannot get round this or obtain their products directly via branches abroad, and frequently have to source from within Switzerland out of necessity. This has a massive weakening effect on their competitiveness. They ultimately have to pay far more for intermediate products and services than their foreign competitors.

The Swiss surcharges have a negative effect on profitability and wages, and yet for decades, all consumers have been able to do is be annoyed by them. The “Fair Price Initiative” finally seeks to remedy this. A solution is long-overdue. That is why I am convinced that a clear majority of the voting public supports the initiative.

What are you expecting to see in the restaurant industry in 2021 in light of the current circumstances, and what are your goals?

A central characteristic of crises is that they are unpredictable. We are going to have to continue navigating by sight, but with one eye open for the next roadblock.

One thing is certain: Even if the lockdown is lifted at the end February as we hope – but which is by no means a done deal – there will be no quick return to normal for catering businesses. If the lockdown is extended, the issue of compensation will need to be addressed again.

It is our goal to have restaurants open for business again quickly. In doing so, we will continue to follow the federal government’s scientific advice as we have up to this point. We assume that re-openings will be carried out in stages, and are committed to ensuring that this happens under measures that make operating a restaurant financially viable.

I hope that we will all soon be able to get together again to enjoy the cozy atmosphere in a nice restaurant. 

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