Once upon a time there was a symbiosis: anyone who goes to town anyway can treat themselves to a coffee or a snack after shopping. The city center shops and bars don’t just need each other economically. Their coexistence makes them a bustling center in many places. But the Corona crisis upsets him. This is shown by a survey by the Institute for Retail Research (IFH) and the wholesaler Metro among 250 restaurants in major German cities. According to this, 60% of those polled rate their situation as poor to very bad – although cafes and restaurants have been allowed to open since spring: first outdoors, then indoors.
Obviously, downtown restaurants in particular are struggling to recover from months of closure. The German Association of Hotels and Restaurants (Dehoga) points out that restaurants in city centers tend to have fewer repeat customers from the neighborhood than businesses in residential areas. “The pick-up service worked very well in the neighborhoods,” explains General Manager Ingrid Hartges. In the city, on the other hand, restaurants are more dependent on passers-by and travelers.
But the number of pedestrians worries the trade. Already in 2020, on average, a third of people less walked in local shopping streets than before the pandemic, reports the company Hystreet, which regularly lists passers-by in city centers. In the first half of this year, 36% fewer people were on the road compared to the same period of the previous year. No wonder: 2021 started off with stores closed for weeks. “The coronavirus triggered this effect,” said IFH boss Boris Hedde. Given the risk of infection and the requirement to wear a mask, people also tend to stay in the centers for less time. However, the attractiveness of city centers has long been a challenge. “We don’t just have them from Corona,” the retail researcher said.
When restaurant spaces become available, large chains are often awarded the contract
The IFH, for example, refers to Internet surveys. A majority of people say that the center of their place of residence has lost its appeal – and that they see fewer and fewer reasons to go. The study criticizes the monotonous offer in many places with branches of the same chains – or vacant stores, which are increasingly worrying cities. Instead, many people have gotten used to more online transactions in recent months: as a contactless alternative to shopping.
But even though more people are expected to flock to the centers again in the future, the restaurant industry still has completely different concerns. Many former employees have left the industry – after months of short-time working and uncertainty. And although more and more stores are empty, not every store can be turned into a cafe or restaurant. For example, noise protection regulations or complex approval procedures may conflict with this. Additionally, restaurants and bars generally can’t afford the same rents as so-called signature shops in prime locations, says Dehoga boss Hartges. And when the restaurant space becomes available, the big chains are often awarded the contract, explains Metro director Sven Liebert, “and especially not the small ones with heart”.
Open detailed view
Bars closed during lockdown in Cologne: this is what it looked like in city centers for weeks.
(Photo: Marius Becker / dpa)
Experts therefore ask that local authorities take gastronomy more into account as a “visitor magnet” in urban development. You are in favor of urban platforms for purchasing catering spaces, as such portals could make the local real estate market more transparent. “The top priority is to improve the atmosphere,” says IFH boss Hedde, referring to clean pedestrian areas and facades, green spaces and – at least temporarily – traffic calming. “But maybe we need a catering agent in a city too,” suggests Hedde: a mediator between industry and administration. Dehoga boss Hartges is encouraging against the backdrop of the number of cities that have uncomplicatedly approved more space for outdoor dining in recent months.
It is no coincidence that the Metro group cares so much about cafes and restaurants. In recent years, the Düsseldorf-based company has split off from several subsidiaries such as Galeria Kaufhof, Mediamarkt or Saturn – and is now focusing entirely on their wholesale markets. “Our customers are mostly restaurateurs,” says manager Ivonne Julitta Bollow. “The growing crisis in city centers naturally affects the activity of our customers. Every specialization, as the example of Metro shows, comes with risks.