Lockdown end – gastro opening in Vorarlberg: “Be negative, stay positive!”

The weather is not on the side of Vorarlberg restaurateurs. When the restaurants in the westernmost state were allowed to reopen on March 15 after a four-month lockdown, it was snowing down into the valley. Most of the guest gardens remain closed. In the pubs, the rush is all the greater. The few tables that can be set up in compliance with the spacing rules are often reserved.

However, opening up is not a real deal, confirms Markus Nagele. He runs the Rösslepark brewery restaurant on the edge of Feldkirch’s old town. On good evenings before the corona pandemic, he had 150 to 200 guests, now there are a maximum of 80. In addition, there is the curfew at 8:00 p.m. At the moment, they make around 20 to 30 percent of normal sales. Nevertheless, the joy prevails. The need to finally go back to work is great. Nagele already recruited new staff at the beginning of the year, but some of them jumped off again due to the ever-increasing lockdown. He tries to make the best of the current situation. The time is used to introduce a modern cash register system and to train the new employees.

“Show that it works”

The guests at the “Rössle” are disciplined, wear masks away from their seats and keep their distance. “We have two or three weeks to show that it works,” explains Nagele and hopes that the numbers will not increase. We are aware of the role model effect for Inner Austria. Colleagues from the east call and ask how the opening works. Nagele sees a problem in the early curfew. That would have had a negative impact last year. In Vorarlberg, the bars closed earlier in autumn than in the rest of Austria. Nevertheless, the numbers rose disproportionately in the second smallest federal state. After the visit to the inn it was said: “Are we still going to see me?” In the pubs, however, contacts are more controllable than when ten people are sitting around the kitchen table at home, Nagele is convinced.

Not all rules are understood by restaurateurs. Why vaccinated people still have to be tested cannot be seen in a Feldkirch city center café. The fact that the same distance rules apply in the guest garden as in the restaurant has also been criticized. In the cramped conditions of the medieval old town, keeping the distances between the tables is often difficult. Some restaurants are not even open. In Austria’s westernmost municipality, the gastronomy and retail trade, as in the entire Vorarlberg Rhine Valley, depend on customers from nearby countries. But the borders with Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Germany are currently only passable under certain conditions. This has contributed to the incidence, which is low in a national comparison, but is now also being reflected in sales. Without the additional state aid, opening up would not be profitable for most of the local operators.

Their mood is already clouded in view of the last season. About half of the past twelve months had to be kept closed. Business only picked up briefly in the summer of 2020. The turnover was even higher than that of the previous year. Many locals had decided not to go on vacation abroad. But two above-average summer months could not save the balance of gastronomy in Vorarlberg either. Since the last lockdown one has been dependent on state compensation and short-time work. “We are still on short-time work,” explains one waitress. Due to the early curfew, you don’t get to the full workload. Nevertheless, one is happy to be able to “create” again, as they say in the Ländle.

Access test different

The country’s test stations are well booked but not overcrowded. Even after the state government had announced the agreement on the local openings, there were still enough appointments to be had. In the meantime, the offer has been expanded further. The population can now test themselves under supervision. The confirmations are valid as admission tickets for the catering trade. However, they are not checked everywhere, as a local inspection in several companies shows. One time no confirmation is required, another time it says: “I do believe you.” In the Rösslepark, on the other hand, guests are received individually and show their test confirmations. Guests can also register at each table using a QR code.

Despite the generally prevailing Alemannic discipline, there are always negative exceptions among the local shoppers. Shortly before curfew on the first day of opening, a drunk stumbled through the streets and asked where he could get a beer. A day later, the police and the ambulance have to take care of an alcoholic who, even with the help of his friends, can no longer stand on his feet. It is the consequences of a lack of sense of responsibility in a pandemic but also of long social isolation. People long for company. Together with the early curfew, this also changes your visiting habits. The guests come earlier and stay longer in the restaurant. For many, it’s the first opportunity in months to meet friends away from walks in the cold. “We have never felt such gratitude,” says Nagele happily.

Nobody wants lockdowns anymore

The positive effects of the local openings are already visible after a few days. There are, with a safe distance, more people out and about in the streets and alleys. The trucks of the suppliers are parked in front of the restaurants, inns and cafes. Beer brewers, middlemen and florists suffered from the forced break for the catering establishments. There is only one newspaper left in a café. The others fell victim to cancellations. The oppressive mood of the hard lockdown is still palpable. It quickly takes over if you ask about possible further closings. Nobody wants to think about them at the moment.

Two men stick their heads through the door of an otherwise well-frequented café in Feldkircher’s Markgasse. The interior is almost empty, no one is sitting in the guest garden despite the blankets laid out. It’s raining. “Do we have to show you the test?” One of them asked the waitress. “That fits anyway, if it says positive ??, right?” Jokes the other. She replies with a laugh: “Be negative, but stay positive!”

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