The New York Times has a disquieting article today about how the economy is impacting Spain's booming culinary scene.
While the country is revered as the home of gastro chic, its hospitality industry is reeling, in a country with the highest unemployment rate in Europe (24 percent). The budgetary shortfall has recently forced the government to raise taxes, threatening to erode further consumption.
Over the last few years, thousands of eateries have been forced to close their doors: 5,000 in 2009, 4,000 in 2010 and 3,000 last year. In Madrid, some of the Spanish capital’s most popular restaurants have shut down, including the half-century-old Principe de Viana and Club 31, which opened in 1959. Other casualties include Nodo, O’Lif and Hakkasan, the Chinese restaurant with seven locations around the world.
A few days ago, the Michelin-starred restaurant Evo, in the Hotel Hesperia Tower in Barcelona, announced its closing. NH Hotels, the owner of the hotel, is planning to transform the restaurant, started in 2006 by the Catalan chef Santi Santamaria (who died last year), into something “without pretensions.”
To compete with dinner parties, owners are taking heretofore unseen initiatives. For example, the story reports that owners are now allowing diners to bring their own wine. Restaurants are changing menus and cutting prices and portions, but adding fees for extra ice or tap water served in a pitcher.
Even some of the very best restaurants are giving up Michelin stars to offer lower-cost alternatives, from trattoria fare to standard hotel cuisine. This summer, a number of trendy outposts are remodeling to create a casual look, fearing that if they don’t change, they will not last. Madrid mainstay Sula is remodeling to keep its customers. The owners are spending approximately $483,560 to convert the ground floor into a tapas bar and to create space for private corporate diners.