My family ran a restaurant for eighty-four years in Collblanc, a border neighborhood between Barcelona and Hospitalet de Llobregat. During all that time in which the stoves were working at full speed, it was known what time the coffee pot was turned on, but not when the last plate of tripe with cap i pota. There it was closed when the last customer decided.
We come from a tradition in which bars are required to stay open from sunup to sundown. Society has always seen with a selfish gaze that a restaurateur decides to close for rest beyond Monday or Tuesday. If one Sunday we find a lowered shutter without a makeshift sign announcing that the bar is “CLOSED FOR PERSONAL MATTERS”, it conveys a certain feeling of neglect, lack of professionalism and even laziness on the part of its owners. How can you think of closing when I have a party and I can go enjoy a vermouth and some tapas?
We prefer to pass in front of a deserted bar, with the waiters sitting reading the newspaper, rather than closed; because bars are temples of worship to hedonism that are part of our culture. Small sanctuaries scattered around the city where parishioners come at any time to drown their guilt without anyone judging them. They are owed to the people and their farming is limited to serving food and drink to its inhabitants when they please.
A pandemic that has changed the rules of the game
Covid-19 has consolidated a paradigm shift that began to take shape during the economic crisis of 2008. We live in a social context in which everything is immediate and nothing is forever. The present, the here and now, is the only thing that matters. Emotional and spiritual well-being is revalued above the economic and material. Having a university degree is not synonymous with professional success and we are obsessed with finding our true passion to develop it before the aliens arrive, a third World War breaks out or there is a worldwide electrical blackout.
Faced with this social change, some great star-accumulating chefs such as the Roca brothers or Dabiz Muñoz are raising the flag that advocates the “humanization and sustainability of hospitality staff”. This trend aims to break with that medieval stigma so ingrained in our culture, which forces bars and restaurants to be open 24/7. Although ordinary citizens are more interested in the opinion of the taverns we frequent regularly, it is surprising that it is the culinary elite, the same one that has more than half a staff with internship contracts working fourteen hours a day, who wants to lead this trend.
This “humanization” that has been talked about behind the scenes for more than 20 years never ends, because certain practices that are, to say the least, inhumane have been terrifyingly normalized. How to close contracts for fewer hours than those worked and in the category of assistant waiter, even if the worker has been holding trays full of drinks for half his life, settle the hours outside the contract in B, do not pay overtime, do not grant two days off in a row , perform split shifts or work shifts of more than twelve hours.
The blow that the pandemic has thrown with all its fury at the restaurant sector, together with the precarious conditions of a professional group that is so important for this country, have made the waiters decide to look for a life in other sectors.
An inexperienced hotelier is like a car without a driver.
One of the main problems that have distorted the restoration is the lack of training and experience of those who lead this type of business. In the same way that it would not occur to us to create a graphic design studio if we are not capable of making a portrait with a six and a four, nor would we open a hair salon because the only scissors we know how to use are those to cut pizza, why do people open bars and restaurants? Many people think that having been frequenting bars and beach bars all their lives, they are able to get behind a bar to direct the rudder. Mistake.
A waiter who is led by a person who does not know the ins and outs of the profession, who does not smile and avoids eye contact, who returns to the bar without taking advantage of the trip cleaning a dirty table, and who does not have the commercial skills to get his customers continue to drink and eat even if they are not thirsty or hungry, it is impossible for him to learn the trade. If we add to this the normalization of atrocious working conditions, we find ourselves before a sector that has been rotting for decades, in part, because of tyrannical and inexperienced restaurateurs.
The value of time is the most precious currency
We are living a moment of transition. Bars and restaurants in urban centers are ceasing to be service stations where citizens go to refuel whenever they please, despite the fact that it is not profitable for them to open at certain times. The new establishments appearing on the city’s gastronomic scene are rebelling against that unwritten ancient law that says that taverns are temples of worship for immediate pleasure, sanctuaries that must be available at the mercy of the one who is always right: the client. The act of disobedience is manifested by promoting a restoration that reconciles with the personal life of its employees.
Their objective is very clear: to work for a living without being slaves to their clients. They take the reins and decide how and when. Some, like the Bar Monterolas, Bardeni either Coure from Barcelona or Lakasa from Madrid, open from Monday to Friday to rest on Saturdays and Sundays. Whoever thinks that this does not also work for a certain level of restoration, is wrong: The little room Begoña Rodrigo, with a Michelin star, does not ship on weekends either. Others, like Farm Vendrell either Elena Farm, also from Barcelona, lower the blinds in the afternoon and limit themselves to serving breakfast and lunch. There are also those who decide to open only the days and hours that have higher turnover, such as Splendini Bar and Discos Valencia, which works from Wednesday to Saturday from seven in the evening to offer snacks of pastrami and salad with a lot of soul.
This new way of seeing the restoration with hours that are similar to those of an office, in addition to reducing personnel costs, also allows eliminating some of the tyrannical practices that are so consolidated, such as working all week taking out the food service and dinners with split shift. Something that only allows you to have a few hours of rest and in which it is impossible to disconnect or dedicate time to personal issues.
It is not that the restaurateurs who are leading this change do not want to work or do not know the sector, as some who are reluctant to this trend think. Time is one of the most precious assets today. People in the hotel industry want to work the same hours as the rest of the mortals to be able to go to a Japanese ceramics course or do whatever they want in a few free hours that follow the rhythm of society.
So, well, if the restaurant industry has been, by tradition, a sector that has gone against the current to satisfy citizens in their leisure time and holidays, who will serve us beers and Andalusian squid if they decide to follow the same course than the rest of society?
Who knows. It is possible that, thanks to this change, we find ourselves before a future in which waiters will begin to smile, to carry out their work with greatness; because dignity appears when limits are set. In contrast, the franchises and the dark delivery they will gain strength to cover the less conciliatory schedules.
Open a beer, come in and see how this all unfolds.
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