TIMES THEY ARE A’CHANGING by AJ Linn

Spain allegedly has more bars per head of population than any other country in the world. Many families live off the modest income provided by a small café in some town or village that also serves as a community centre. Regrettably this may all be set to change, and the indications are that going out for a drink or a meal in future will be more stressful than staying at home and ordering a takeaway. The coronavirus epidemic has changed many things, and anyone under 15 years of age will wonder how on earth we managed to live such a crowded and physically intimate social life before the spring of 2020.

We should never forget that the Spanish race is very touchy-feely and, whereas a polite handshake could be considered verging on physical intimacy in many northern European countries and the USA, the sight of two men with their arms around each other in public is normal here. Which is why the originally-proposed regulations governing physical contact as a result of COVID-19 were so un-Spanish and fortunately never actually imposed. These unprecedented conditions for bars and restaurants anticipated that no air-conditioning or extractor fans would be allowed, and time limits for eating (30 minutes for breakfast and 90 for main meals) were to be the order of the day. And it goes without saying that, if we were in a bar or café with our family and we saw some friends, we should not walk over and hug them, as we would have done pre-CV. Maybe a not-so-cheery wave? Obviously none of this is conducive to getting business back to pre-epidemic levels, although undeniably any bar or restaurant with a large terrace is ahead of the game, and town halls are being remarkably flexible when it comes to allowing large chunks of city pavements to become extensions of local businesses. Just as well in a country where the closure of bars, cafeterías and restaurants has been argued as a reasonable cause for the country to lose a vital part of its cultural fabric.

Finally reason prevailed and the current regulations are based almost entirely on social distancing. While Spain may have been its usual ponderous self, restaurant operators in other countries have demonstrated considerable innovative skills. Copenhagen’s Noma, regularly voted the “best restaurant in the world”, is now transformed into a wine and hamburger eatery. On opening night it sold out of everything in the first hour. And we have all seen pictures of restaurants where diners eat in tiny glass cubicles where staff serve the food from the door using what appear to be pizza oven paddles. The latest development has been the introduction of robots to serve at tables. Surely practical but won’t we miss that humorous banter with the waiter? And wine sales? The hit the trade has taken is seriously affecting every wine-producing country, and the most concerning factor is that warehouses are still largely full of last year’s vintage. So where will wine from this year’s vintage be stored? There is nothing worse for the wine lover than to dwell on the possibility of the delicious liquid being poured down the drain, but this is a real possibility – even though it will not be the first time it has happened.

Makers of distilled products of course are delighted. Not only can they tailor their production to demand without having to hold stocks, but, per degree of alcohol, gin, whisky and vodka need less storage space than wine. This is probably why sales soared during lockdown, along with beer it must beadmitted, while wine, and definitely champagne sales, were badly hit.

This last is interesting and bears out the commonly-held belief that we only drink champagne to impress other people. So, if we are locked down at home with our partner – or worse, on our own – popping a bottle of bubbly
may be agreeable but no-one is around to say, “Oooh! Look at them…!” Take-away meals, once promoted as a savior for long-suffering restaurants, have not had the success that was originally anticipated. In the first place, the delivery firms charge too high a commission to make the final bill reasonable for the customer. And, even if the meal comes from our favourite restaurant and the quality is as good as we would expect, eating at home using our own plates and glassware is not very exciting. Nor does wine usually form part of the deal, although it can be argued that if you are not driving there is no reason to go easy on the red stuff. By the time you read this, it will be clear whether the experiment has been successful or not.

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