‘An attack on tradition’: Italian bar owners protest rule against drinking coffee at the counter

The very Italian custom of drinking coffee quickly at the counter is still banned under the country’s coronavirus restrictions - but bar owners say the tradition is their “lifeblood” and must be restored.

‘An attack on tradition’: Italian bar owners protest rule against drinking coffee at the counter

Bars in Italy’s lower-risk ‘yellow’ zones can now serve customers at outdoor tables only. But in a country where many people usually drink coffee while standing at the bar, struggling business owners say this isn’t much help to them.

Ordering food or drinks at the counter remains banned – a rule which Italy’s coffee shop owners say makes no sense and risks damaging their businesses further.

READ ALSO: Schools, restaurants, gyms, travel: Here’s Italy’s new timetable for reopening

“The ban on eating and drinking at the counter has no legal or health basis,” stated the business group Fipe-Confcommercio, which represents Italy’s bar and restaurant owners, according to La Repubblica.

The government “should clarify once and for all that drinking a coffee and eating a cornetto at the counter is possible and, with the right social distancing, without risk.”

The group demanded “an immediate intervention (by the government) to restore the possibility of eating and drinking at the counter,” something which had previously been allowed until a rule change in March.

Outdoor table service is currently allowed in Italy’s lower-risk yellow zones – but bar owners say that’s not how most people in Italy normally take their coffee. Photo: ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

Aldo Cursano, Deputy Vice President of Fipe-Confcommercio, told La Repubblica the ongoing ban was “an attack on the tradition of the Italian bar”.

“A tradition, known and appreciated all over the world, of coffee drunk quickly at the counter on a break, accompanied by something sweet or savoury.”

This is “a habit for millions of Italians,” he said, and “the lifeblood of the 144,000 bars in our country which, since the beginning of the pandemic, have recorded an 8 billion euro loss in turnover and a reduction in the workforce of 90,000 people”.

READ ALSO:How has the coronavirus crisis changed Italy’s coffee culture?

In some parts of Italy it’s so unusual for people to order coffee while sitting at a table that doing so would usually incur additional service charges.

In Liguria, one part of Italy where the habit of drinking coffee al bancone is particularly common, bar owners say the rule could easily spell the end for their businesses.

“If you can’t drink at the counter, you give up on coffee,” Alessandro Cavo, president of the Liguria branch of Fipe Confcommercio, told local media.

“The amount of coffee drunk at tables is less than at the counter, and this is especially true for our city.”

“We believe that with distancing, the act of quickly drinking a cup of coffee carries a minimal risk – and this minimal risk represents the difference between life and death for a business based on this type of work,” he continued.

Drinking coffee at the bar was not explicitly prohibited in Italy’s latest emergency decree, but in a government circular issued on April 24th.

It clarified that counter service is allowed at bars that “allow consumption in the open air” such as outdoor kiosks, but not indoors.

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EXPLAINED: What’s changing under Italy’s post-pandemic recovery plan?

Italy’s recovery plan is often in the news, but do you know exactly what it involves? With funding for everything from better healthcare to faster wifi, here's what's set to improve about life in the country.

EXPLAINED: What’s changing under Italy’s post-pandemic recovery plan?

Italy is ready to move on to the next phase of its National Recovery and Resilience Plan (Piano Nazionale di Ripresa e Resilienza, or PNRR), after the government said at the end of June it had met all of its targets for the first half of 2022.

The country is now due to receive its second yearly instalment of funding from the European Commission, amounting to a further 24.1 billion euros. The first payment of 24.9 billion came last August.

But why is Italy receiving this money – and what exactly is the government doing (or planning to do) with it?

Italy is the biggest beneficiary of 750-billion-euro post-pandemic recovery aid package known as the Next Generation EU programme (NGEU), which is being split between member states.

The country is set to receive a total of 191.5 billion euros from the fund by the end of 2026.

In order to access the funding, Italy’s government had to set out in the PNRR exactly how it would spend it – on projects that would not only help the national economy recover, but would leave it more resilient in future.

READ ALSO: What does Italy’s latest political crisis mean for the economy?

Prime Minister Mario Draghi, tasked with putting the plan together, said it would help the country recover after being hit particularly hard by the pandemic but that it also “addresses some weaknesses that have plagued our economy and our society for decades”.

The PNRR include plans to upgrade railways, rebuild crumbling roads and bridges, and speed up wifi connections, with the government saying it aims to use the money to improve infrastructure and make Italy a “country for young people”.

The government outlined the ins and outs of all the investments and reforms in the PNRR (with the official document available here), dividing them into six main areas, or ‘missions’.

Italy's Recovery Plan; 2022, first semester objectives

2022’s first semester PNRR objectives divided by category. Photo courtesy of Italia Domani, Piano Nazionale di Ripresa e Resilienza.

The gradual completion of the plan is expected to bring about a yearly 0.5-percent GDP increase.

Here’s a closer look at some the most relevant investments and reforms included in the plan.

Digitalisation, innovation, competitiveness, culture and tourism

Over 40 billion euros will be poured into the ‘digitalisation and innovation’ measures. 

Simplifying and streamlining public administration procedures will be one of the government’s top priorities as the planned measures will try to reduce the time of civil and criminal trials by 40 and 25 percent respectively.  

Other interventions will revolve around the installation of 5G nationwide and the construction of high-speed internet networks covering government agencies, schools, health facilities and museums all across the country.

Also, ultra-fast broadband is expected to serve an additional 8.5 million families by 2026.

OPINION: Italy has a big chance to improve internet speeds – but will it take it?

A number of measures are aimed at enhancing Italy’s immense cultural heritage by improving access to historical sites located in rural or remote areas (as part of a Piano Nazionale Borghi, or National Plan for Villages), and by digitalising services connected with the tourism industry. 

As part of the tourism redevelopment project, Rome will receive around 500 million euros which will be used to enhance 283 of its historical sites.

Milan's Centrale railway station

Construction of high-speed rail on the Naples-Bari line is expected to reduce the journey time by as much as 90 minutes. Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP

Green revolution and ecological transition

Funds adding up to a total of 59.5 billion euros (equal to 31 percent of the Recovery Plan’s total value) will be injected into the ‘green revolution’ mission. 

Much of the ecological transition plan will revolve around the development of renewable energy solutions, including agrovoltaic plants and hydrogen charging stations for road vehicles. 

There are also plans to modernise current waste management facilities and build new ones to achieve a “circular economy” (a model of consumption based on the ‘use, recycle and reuse’ principle).

Finally, electricity grids will be upgraded all over the country and water leakages are expected to decrease by as much as 15 percent by 2026 due to system improvements.

Infrastructure for sustainable mobility 

Over 13 percent (25.4 billion euros) of the funds will be set aside for the improvement of Italy’s transport network.

The major measures will involve the construction of high-speed rail on the following lines in southern Italy: Salerno-Reggio Calabria, Naples-Bari and Palermo-Catania, with journey times dropping by as much as 90 minutes.  

Regional and local railway lines and stations will also be upgraded to make public transport more accessible to all.

The planned improvements also include the renovation of many bridges, tunnels and viaducts across the country amid longstanding concerns about safety and stability.

Italian classroom, Venice

As many as 40,000 Italian schools will be equipped with high-speed internet connection in a bid to offer pupils the latest learning methods. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

Education and research

The Italian education system will undergo major changes as part of a dedicated 31-billion-euro package. 

The available funds will be used to renovate 2.4 million square metres of school buildings and create 228,000 new places in nurseries. 

Also, as many as 40,000 institutes will be equipped with high-speed internet connection to allow for the implementation of innovative learning methods.

In closing, student accommodation will go from the current 40,000 available lodgings to 100,000 by the end of 2026.

Cohesion and inclusion

The ‘cohesion and inclusion’ mission, which has been allocated a total of 19.9 billion euros, seeks to build a brighter future for the next generations by innovating the labour market, erasing social and economic inequalities and supporting female entrepreneurship.

A number of nationwide programmes, including the new Worker Employability Guarantee, will aim to increase the national employment rate and provide key assistance for unemployed individuals. 

Other than that, a Women’s Entrepreneurship Fund will be set up to support female-run businesses and increase gender equality in the labour market.

Finally, the plan states that the government will work to reduce marginalisation by redeveloping public areas, promoting local cultural activities and offering support for people with disabilities.


The Italian healthcare system will receive PNRR funds amounting to a total of 15.6 billion euros.

The government’s priority will be to improve hospital infrastructure by modernising existing structures and building new ones – 400 community hospitals for short-term medical care and 1,350 care homes will be built by 2026.

Additionally, intensive care units will be upgraded and hospitals across the country will receive state-of-the-art appliances for CAT scans, MRIs and other medical tests.