Fridolin, when did you realise that the situation was getting serious?
When our sales fell for two weeks in a row at the end of February, I already figured it wasn’t just because of the weather. At the end of February, the first German infection case appeared in the news. That’s when people’s anxiety increased and things became noticeably quieter in our Buchkantine. About two weeks ago, entire business branches were closed down and there were new requirements and regulations. Now I can say that the situation in our company has reached critical alert in terms of sales.
We’ve been in business for 15 years and we can cover the salaries and overhead at least for this month – but what about the others who can’t?Fridolin Taudtmann, Owner Buchkantine, Berlin
What consequences did the drop in sales and the legal requirements have for your business?
I quickly got rid of all employees who were on probation – that was about a third. I put the remaining employees on short-time work. These conversations are not fun, because 60 or 67 per cent of the net salary isn’t much in the hospitality industry. It doesn’t consider tips, which are not covered by social security. We made use of everything that is possible. We adjusted the health insurance payments and applied for deferments at the tax office, and we cancelled payments to the BGN (employer's liability insurance association). The applications are in the mail, but we have no idea when they will be processed. There are 3.7 million people living in Berlin; about 15,000 of them are restaurateurs. I can’t even imagine how crazy it is in administrative offices right now. We’ve been in business for 15 years and we can cover the salaries and overhead at least for this month – but what about the others who can’t?
Did you have support with all the applications?
Yes, our tax office had a lot of the necessary information. They’re based in North Rhine-Westphalia, where things started a few weeks earlier. We also talked to our bank about all the funds I can now apply for to receive support. But we had to compile a lot of information ourselves. In the beginning there wasn’t a website that provided a comprehensive and understandable explanation about what a restaurateur with financial difficulties due to the current regulations has to do to get help quickly.
How did your team react to the matter?
They stand behind me one hundred per cent despite the fact that nothing I’ve told them over the last few weeks was nice. They had my back so I could take care of all the official paperwork and kept the place running until it closed. I always knew I had a great team, but their reaction to all this made it very clear to me again.
What’s preoccupying you most right now?
That I don’t know what’s going to happen or how long this situation will last. I have to complete the liquidity planning for 2020 and it’s hard to predict what my sales will look like. I don’t know what people’s buying behaviour will be like afterwards.
I very much hope that the banks and authorities will take a close look at who was already wavering and who was doing well. And that they treat the companies well who really aren’t responsible for their collapse because it’s simply due to the pandemic.Fridolin Taudtmann, Owner Buchkantine, Berlin
How do you think the hospitality industry landscape will change after the coronavirus crisis?
Many people will ask themselves if they should continue after that. There are much easier and safer ways to earn money than in the hospitality industry. Some will wonder if they need as many employees as before, or if their business can be kept smaller and more efficient. I also believe that it’s becoming clear that excessively rapid growth, financed by crazy amounts of venture capital, is takings its toll. It’s likely that these types of business models, which are not profitable for a long time, will be less likely in the future – or at least more difficult to finance.
What do you think the hospitality industry would need to recover when everything is over and they can resume their operations?
Grants or subsidies. Not insane ventures with investment banks, which all end up as loans in the end. The small restaurants and cafés will not want any part of that, because they will hardly be able to pay them back. After all, this is not about investing in growth – it's just setting money on fire. It’s clear that not everyone will make it anyway. I very much hope that the banks and authorities will take a close look at who was already wavering and who was doing well. And that they treat the companies well who really aren’t responsible for their collapse because it’s simply due to the pandemic.
Do you also see opportunities in the crisis?
The chance to reposition our business and question processes. We’ve discovered the hard way that our industry sector is not crisis-proof at all. We are not BMW or Lufthansa. And even they’re faltering. I hope that this will give greater leverage to the discussion about adjusting the sales tax rates from 19 to 7 per cent. For my part, I’m already preparing for the day after – because that day is coming. I’m working on a new menu and I hope sincerely that we will all get off with a bruise or two. The hospitality world has now changed. Perhaps this whole thing will also provide an opportunity for small entrepreneurs who survive this crisis to assert themselves on the market in a new and stronger way – especially when large restaurant chains lose market share.