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Looser laws leave patrons spoilt for choice

Too many seats for too few customers swissinfo.ch

Switzerland has too many cafés and restaurants for its own good, according to both proprietors and unions active in the sector.

This content was published on January 12, 2004 - 19:57

Industry representatives want to sort out the world of wining and dining by improving standards and making it more difficult for individuals to open new restaurants.

“The sector is in the middle of a crisis,” said Jean-Luc Piguet of the Geneva Society of Café Owners, Restaurateurs and Hoteliers.

“Too many restaurants and cafés are being left to their own devices. No one is earning their living in the right way,” he added.

Switzerland is home to some 28,000 cafés, which is about 10,000 more than the country actually needs, according to the Swiss Café Owners Association.

“The hotel and restaurant industry offers some three million seats for roughly seven million people living in Switzerland. From an economic point of view, this is far too many,” said Brigitte Meier-Schmid of Gastrosuisse, an umbrella group for the hotel and restaurant sectors.

Café glut

In the 1990s laws regulating cafés and restaurants were eased in several parts of Switzerland. It was expected that the number of establishments would increase initially, but that standards would improve as competition took hold.

“But in the end the number of restaurants did not fall as much as expected," said Eric Dubuis, secretary of the Hotel and Gastronomic Union, which represents the catering industry.

Dubuis says the sector is the victim of a lack of professionalism and low standards.

“A course of three to four months is all that needed. Is that enough training for a person to obtain a restaurant proprietor’s certificate? For me the answer is a clear no.”

Training

Piguet says it is critical to improve education and training in the sector to boost standards.

"We have to be taken more seriously and have to become more demanding in our exams. We want to protect the profession as well as the customer."

At the moment, the requirements for new restaurateurs differ from canton to canton. In Geneva, would-be proprietors must take an exam before they are given a licence to operate. But in Zurich, no qualification is needed to set up shop.

Industry representatives fear that, without change, standards in the sector – a key part of Switzerland’s tourist industry – will fall.

"Someone who has followed a professional training course will open a restaurant with one concept where all elements - such as food, drink, interior design and service staff - come together," says Amir Fivaz, who is employed in Zurich's restaurant sector.

Protectionist

But Piguet warns against allowing a protectionist mentality to develop. “People should not be prevented from entering the business. But we need to take ourselves more seriously by introducing qualifications that mean something. This is about protecting both the industry and the client.”

The union agrees: “The standard of qualifications must be improved otherwise the result will be badly managed cafés staffed with badly trained employees,” says Dubuis.

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In brief

There are too many cafés and restaurants in Switzerland, say proprietors and unions.

Industry representatives are calling for higher standards and barriers to entry.

They add that training must improve, otherwise quality in the sector will decline.

End of insertion

Key facts

Switzerland has about 28,000 cafés.
According to the Café Owners Association that’s about 10,000 more than needed.
In the 1990s, laws regulating cafés and restaurants were eased in several parts of Switzerland.

End of insertion

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