‘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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Former Italian PM faces investigation over Covid response

Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte is set to undergo a judicial inquiry over claims his government's response to the Covid-19 outbreak in early 2020 was too slow.

Former Italian PM faces investigation over Covid response

Prosecutors in Bergamo, the northern city that was one of the epicentres of the coronavirus outbreak in Europe, targeted Conte after wrapping up their three-year inquiry, according to media reports.

Conte, now president of the populist Five Star movement, was prime minister from 2018 to 2021 and oversaw the initial measures taken to halt the spread of what would become a global pandemic.

Investigating magistrates suspect that Conte and his government underestimated the contagiousness of Covid-19 even though available data showed that cases were spreading rapidly in Bergamo and the surrounding region.

They note that in early March 2020 the government did not create a “red zone” in two areas hit hardest by the outbreak, Nembro and Alzano Lombardo, even though security forces were ready to isolate the zone from the rest of the country.

READ ALSO: ‘Not offensive’: Italian minister defends Covid testing rule for China arrivals

Red zones had already been decreed in late February for around a dozen other nearby municipalities including Codogno, the town where the initial Covid case was reportedly found.

Conte’s health minister Roberto Speranza as well as the president of the Lombardy region, Attilio Fontana, are also under investigation, the reports said.

Bergamo prosecutors allege that according to scientific experts, earlier quarantines could have saved thousands of lives.

Conte, quoted by Il Corriere della Sera and other media outlets, said he was “unworried” by the inquiry, saying his government had acted “with the utmost commitment and responsibility during one of the most difficult moments of our republic.”

READ ALSO: Italy’s constitutional court upholds Covid vaccine mandate as fines kick in

Similar cases have been lodged against officials elsewhere, alleging that authorities failed to act quickly enough against a virus that has killed an estimated 6.8 million people worldwide since early 2020.

In January, France’s top court threw out a case against former health minister Agnes Buzyn, a trained doctor, over her allegedly “endangering the lives of others” by initially playing down the severity of Covid-19.