Promotion of hygiene certificates may entice diners back to eateries

Promotion of hygiene certificates may entice diners back to eateries

Barçın Yinanç - ISTANBUL
Promotion of hygiene certificates may entice diners back to eateries

An employee with a protective face mask lines plates, forks and spoons in a luxury restaurant, whose tables have been left empty and without customers due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

More needs to be done to draw people back into Turkey’s restaurants, according to the head of the Turkish Restaurant and Entertainment Association (TURYID), who notes that the greater promotion of hygiene certificates could convince the public to eat out once more.

“We are now being audited by internationally reputable companies. If we have completed all the criteria, only then do they issue the certificate. Customers need to be educated on the importance of the certificate as well,” said Kaya Demirer.

Can you give us an overview of the scope of the industry before COVID-19?

The food, beverage and entertainment industry was worth 130 billion Turkish Liras before the novel coronavirus.

There is, roughly speaking again, 100,000 establishments that generate this revenue, while the industry has 2 million direct young workers. They are low-skilled, but they make up 9 percent of the country’s workforce. Currently, the industry generates less than $20 billion.

The industry has been struggling since 2015. Initially, the industry suffered a lot from terrorism. Then, in 2018, just when the international security issues eased to a relative degree, the economic crises hit us. It was only in 2020 that we started getting extremely hopeful for the future.

How have you fared during the pandemic?

On March 16, the government officially stopped the restaurant and entertainment industry. It officially opened up again on June 1. For three months in a row, the industry was out of business, which meant zero revenue. In this industry, whatever revenue is generated today is used to pay yesterday’s debts. So we went out of business when we were facing serious amounts of debt, mainly to suppliers and to some other third parties.

We started working actively with the Tourism Ministry to find a remedy. The ministry came back quickly and created this clean tourism certificate which was about getting ready for the summer in the post-coronavirus stage.

Meanwhile, the government took some moves which were extremely helpful, such as the short-term work allowance which eased the tension between employees and employers. We immediately closed the restaurants and sent employees home. The government paid 60 percent of their salary, which corresponds to 80 percent of their net salary, and nobody complained.

When the decision to reopen was taken, some argued it was too early; for others, it was the perfect timing. But the timing was irrelevant. The government announced the opening date just a couple of days before the actual date, and people did not have time to get ready. There were also a lot of issues about adapting to the regulations, which took some time.

But the public was split in half, some said, “No way, I will not go out to eat.” But others said, “We missed being out.” People realized the healing aspect of socializing by going out to eat.

Some 80 percent of the restaurants have opened, but we started with only a third of our previous year’s revenue. By the time we got to August, we had reached 55-60 percent of last year’s revenue.

However, people have started to get a bit scared recently. In the holiday resorts in the south, nobody practices any precautions.

When we speak with the authorities, we tell them that it is obviously easier for the government to monitor establishments than individuals, but we are not responsible for people’s personal hygiene; we do not have any enforcement power as we are not the police.

It should not be us that is penalized when measures are not followed. But how can authorities chase individuals? But then they hold establishments responsible for implementing the regulations. This is the big dilemma. We have been begging authorities to educate people by making more public advertisements or [announcements on] social media.

Social distancing must be a challenge as restaurants will have to accommodate fewer customers, entailing less revenue.

Physically speaking, yes, it does lower the potential and some very small restaurants do not have enough space. We asked municipalities to let restaurants put their tables out on the street, and we asked them to limit traffic on some streets or block it completely to give space to those restaurants in need. And we said this could be done until the end of summer. They said it was a good idea, but nothing’s happened. Municipalities did not act as swiftly as we expected.

The picture does not look bright for the immediate future. We only see a possible remedy next summer when tourism will pick up.

So would you say that a lack of confidence remains the primary challenge?

The number-one challenge is the lack of confidence among individuals to go out and socialize in public. The second is that individuals themselves are in great difficulty economically. With foreign exchange rates on the rise and with inflation perhaps going up as well, all these things make us wonder about the future.

There will also be the lasting effects of the pandemic. People realized they could continue their business relations online through webinars or Zoom meetings. This will have a big impact on congress tourism, which will shrink.
But I strongly believe that the food and beverage business and travel and tourism in general will have a huge bounce back when this pandemic disappears from our lives. There will be a revenge economy, because all the needs for socialization have been suppressed. People will want to get out.

Your current motto is “don’t stay home anymore.” Yet you are also aware that the public still fears COVID-19. What are the measures the industry has taken to convince people to eat out?

The most important is the certificate we get. In order to get the certificate, you have to tick the boxes of 150 criteria. Some of them are part of regular business while for some others, we have just learned them due to COVID-19, and they will disappear in the future.

But there is the experience that we gained while obtaining the certificate, and that will be very valuable for the future. We are now being audited by internationally reputable companies. These German, British or French certification companies come and look if we have completed all the criteria, and only then do they issue the certificate. Customers need to be educated on the importance of the certificate as well.

The Tourism Ministry invented the certificate for international tourism purposes, and it explained [the certificate] during high-level meetings with [foreign] governments. After that, it was sent to tour operators so they could send tourists to Turkey to hotels with this certificate. Now restaurants as well are applying for the certificate, and it is now being used widely.

And even if virus disappears, I suggest to our members to keep their relationship with these companies and use it for other purposes which could benefit their business, such as food hygiene. Food safety is different than measures related to COVID-19.

*Who is Kaya Demirrer?

He has been the president of the Turkish Restaurant and Entertainment Association (TURYID) since 2011.
TURYID brings together 230 brands and over 1,250 restaurants.

Demirer is also a board member of the Turkish Federation of Shopping Centers and Retailers, as well as a member of the Board of National Tourism Consultation, which was founded by the Tourism Ministry.

He is also the founder and CEO of KNS Tourism, which operates Frankie Istanbul.

In 2013, he founded İtalyan Lezzetleri, which included Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Italian, and worked as its CEO until 2017.

Between 2007 and 2010, he worked as the managing director of the Topaz Group Istanbul, which included the Topaz restaurant, serving Mediterranean fine cuisine; G by Karaf, an “extreme seafood” restaurant at Reina, as well as the NİŞ restaurant.