Moving People

A lot of questions, a lot of hope: ‘I need my employees when I open back up.’

Danny Derbe runs the inn Zum Bierseidel and two other places in Berlin – a restaurant and a pub. He is responsible for 20 employees. The coronavirus outbreak forced Derbe to close all three hospitality businesses – and hopes that his employees and guests will return after the end of this extraordinary situation.

Danny, how are you and your employees doing at the moment?

All my employees are at home now and hopefully taking care of things they’ve been wanting to do for a long time. They trust me to let them know immediately if there’s any news. The only problem is that I don’t have a lot of information myself. I’ve heard a lot of promises so far, from bridge loans to other funds. I don’t want to say that I don’t believe that something will happen either. The question is just, when and where? What exactly does each institution need from me so that I can file my application? The question is how fast and uncomplicated these things can move forward.

Why did you decide to close your businesses?

Unfortunately we are not exposed enough to switch to a pick-up or delivery service. It wouldn’t be worthwhile. I tried it at first – and earned 50 euros a day in revenue. When you take a look at perishable goods, energy costs and personnel, it makes no sense.

But I’m still young and have a lot of ideas. If things somehow become a bit more predictable, then there is definitely enough energy, so that things can move forward right away.

Danny Derbe, Zum Bierseidel, Berlin

Does that mean you laid off employees or applied for short-time work?

It’s not that easy to apply for short-time work. If you’ve never done it before, you definitely need a tax professional to guide and support you. But first you have to ask the employees. I have a few who would prefer to be laid off, because with short-time work at my company they can get 0 or maybe 10 hours per month. I ask every employee this question. That’s something we have to decide together. I want the best for my employees because I need them all back when I open up again in the future.

What were the decisions for the moment?

Five wanted to be laid off at their own request. Five are still undecided. The rest of them, in other words the other ten, prefer short-time work. A little bit of everything.

What does the current situation mean for you personally? Are you already thinking about contingency plans for the worst-case scenario?

Yes, of course. I have a lot of concerns. I’m still relatively relaxed. I’m also busy storing everything away properly to ensure that the goods don’t spoil and to avoid burglaries and destruction or theft of the patio furniture. First, I have to secure everything and then move on to the next step. There are still so many open questions; you don’t even know where to start. Should I make an emergency plan for two weeks, four weeks, eight weeks, half a year? But I’m still young and have a lot of ideas. If things somehow become a bit more predictable, then there is definitely enough energy, so that things can move forward right away.

What would help you right now?

Payment deferments, for example – there are several options in that regard. I have a private landlord who immediately let me know that he can do without a certain percentage of the rent, without which he can still cover his costs. Awesome! With the other two businesses we are tenants of two large federal construction companies. I haven’t received any answers from them yet. If they would waive the rent for two to three months, it would help me a lot. That amount is not insignificant.

At least with the people I deal with I can feel the solidarity. Nobody’s trying to stay under the radar, thinking that the competition may soon be gone.

Danny Derbe, Owner of Zum Bierseidel, Berlin

What experience over the last few weeks would you like to share with other restaurateurs?

It’s great to see that there’s solidarity among restaurateurs instead of everyone just thinking about themselves. Everyone is passing along information they have. Regardless if it’s a new form or anything else, it will be forwarded and usually other people provide feedback. At least with the people I deal with I can feel the solidarity. Nobody’s trying to stay under the radar, thinking that the competition may soon be gone.

Was there a way to somehow prepare for this scenario?

No, there was no way to prepare for it. It’s hard enough to make a living in the hospitality industry all year round. Some businesses are more seasonal, but sometimes we don’t have a real summer or winter. Then there are always laws and regulations. One thing that would be beneficial for the hotel and restaurant business would be for someone to look at the 7% VAT and reassess it after this crisis.

So, is the current crisis a wake-up call?

No doubt about it. I think many restaurateurs who pour their own blood, sweat and tears into their business will get back on their feet. But some will also say: ‘That’s enough! I've had it up to here. I fought a long time to make money, but now I’m retiring and it’s time to quit.’ That’s where politicians need to act. Another big problem: The hospitality industry is an employee-intensive business. We’re all happy when we have great helping hands, but it also takes a strong head to make them work efficiently. Having good staff and low turnover is like winning the lottery.

So you rely on your employees?

Absolutely. The most loyal ones are the alpha and omega of the business. If they don’t come back after this crisis, then my business will not be the same as before, even if it looks the same from the outside.

Aid programme for the gastronomy

Click here for information on government aid for restaurateurs in the Corona crisis.

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