“Eccoli,” declared my father-in-law as he extended a tray of just-fried frittelle before disappearing back inside the San Jacopino 1970s apartment block. Yesterday wasn’t the usual raucous Sunday family lunch as a result of strict legislation imposed by the Italian government to limit interpersonal contact. At this time when the best way to contain contagion by Covid-19 is to keep our distance from one another, how are restaurants reacting?
At the popular restaurant La Tana di Ugo beneath my first-floor flat in Pontassieve, 25 minutes from Florence, owner Sonia Cavigli has been sitting diners at staggered times to ensure the one-metre rule. “I’ve measured the distance from one chair to the next and restricted the number of diners at any one time. Everyone asked to come at 1pm on Sunday, but I told them that some had to come at 1pm and others at 2pm. There was even somebody who wanted to come and eat earlier to be alone in the restaurant, but I turned them down.” The restaurant is now operating a home delivery service: if you spend 25 euro, you get a bottle of wine for free.
A week before the tighter regulations came into place, chef Simone Cipriani, of Essenziale in Florence’s San Frediano, spearheaded a campaign to bring diners back into restaurants. It started off with a photo of Cipriani wearing a mask on social media, with a special offer: a complimentary face mask printed with his restaurant’s logo for everyone who came to dinner. That offer was swiftly followed by the #wearenothevirus awareness campaign, which saw chefs, journalists, wait staff and sommeliers photographed holding an ingredient, mask-like, in front of their nose and mouths. Now Cipriani’s about to introduce a food delivery service, Sugo, providing creative freshly cooked dishes via Deliveroo at lunch and dinner. He’s also keeping the restaurant open and invited artist Alessandro Rabatti to display weekly rotating art on the industrial-chic walls.
Historic trattoria Da Burde, in via Pistoiese, has been running a food pick-up service since March 5. The restaurant’s famous Florentine tripe is available on Thursdays, according to local tradition, while baccalà (salt cod) and chickpeas are up for grabs on Fridays, with other typical dishes throughout the week. “We take orders in the morning for food to be collected from the trattoria,” commented Andrea Gori. “We’re not delivering unless it’s a large order for companies, but people are welcome to come and pick up the food. It was something we always used to do 20 to 30 years ago, but it’s a custom that’s been lost.”
At modern Tuscan restaurant Osteria dell’Enoteca, in via Romana, and wine bar Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina, Shannon Quinn Fioravanti explains that tables have been removed and the bar areas are no longer being staffed to meet the new laws. “We had a nice amount of tables on Friday and Saturday, not full but afloat, while Sunday was significantly less, although we had been packed with reservations for months because it was International Women’s Day … On our Wine Club front, the support has been overwhelming from overseas as people are signing up as a mark of solidarity.”
It’s the downturn in tourism that’s causing dismay for the likes of Cooking in Florence, a cooking school and events hub in via Ghibellina. “Our business base relies on international visitors and the tourists are leaving, so we’re dealing with all the cancellations,” explained Laura Franceschetti. The same worries are shared by Tomas Simcha Jelinek, of Ruth’s Kosher Vegetarian Food (“Friday nights and Sundays, the main days when people visited the Synagogue, are deserted); Stefano Innocenti, of Acquaal2, behind the Bargello (“We’re down by about 80 per cent; I’ve spaced the tables accordingly, and have even added plants to improve the air quality”); and Donato Crivelli, of Simbiosi, in the San Lorenzo area (“The pizzeria still has some work, although people are spending less than usual. As the owner of five food outlets, I’m starting to consider temporary closures”).
This evening, in a telling move, more than 300 restaurateurs in and around Florence petitioned the Italian government and regional administration to declare Tuscany as a high-risk “red area” for Coronavirus. The call comes out of concerns for their staff’s wellbeing as well as financial pressures. The open letter, also sent to the press, reads: “A sense of responsibility enforces us to safeguard our employees in terms of health and jobs, to safeguard our clients and ourselves, and to contain the increasing Covid-19 epidemic.”