By Giada Zampano
ROME (AA) – Struggling to cope with soaring energy prices, bar and restaurant owners across Italy have decided to share their pain with their customers, putting their “unbearable” gas and electricity bills on display.
The nationwide “Bollette in Vetrina” (Bills on Display) initiative was launched by Fipe-Confcommercio – the Italian association of retail and catering businesses – with the aim of making customers aware of the grim reality: energy bills have tripled compared to a year ago.
The heavy toll from the ongoing energy crisis – a consequence of the Ukrainian war and Russia’s cutting of gas supplies to Europe – is forcing small and medium-sized retailers to choose between imposing price increases on their clients or shutting down.
“The initiative aims to make transparent what is happening today to those who manage a bar or restaurant in an attempt to explain to customers why they are paying a little more for coffee, with the risk of further increases in the coming months," said Aldo Cursano, vice president of Fipe-Confcommercio. “With increases in energy costs of up to 300%, we are working with a gun to our heads.”
Bar and restaurant owners are now hoping that their cry for help will be heard by the government before it is too late.
“As you can see from the numbers, in July, our bills tripled. We have gone from a €2,300 ($2,321) monthly bill to a €6,900 one,” Giorgio Catalano, the manager of Il Piccolo Diavolo, a bar in central Rome, told Anadolu Agency.
He pointed to the “monster” bill displayed right in front of the bar’s counter with a red box saying “darkness” for the month of August, as bills are expected to have risen even further.
“The trend is still on the rise, and now we are facing the fall and winter months, which means less light, less sun and the need to turn lights on for longer,” he noted, adding the situation is “impossible to manage.”
Catalano added that if the trend continues, he would need to cut his workers’ hours, which would mean consequently cutting revenues.
“But even in that case, we would survive only two or three months. It’s impossible to think to run a bar for the entire season or one year with these costs.”
In a symbolic protest against the spike in energy prices, on an evening in late August, Catalano decided to switch off the lights for half an hour at his bar, serving customers only by candlelight.
“It was a way to express our worries and share them with our customers,” he said.
- Jobs at risk
According to Fipe-Confcommercio, around 120,000 businesses in the service sector are at risk of closing within the first six months of 2023, buried by unsustainable inflation and energy costs, with around 370,000 jobs at stake.
Business owners suggest the government adopt urgent measures similar to those approved to help citizens and firms cope with the coronavirus pandemic emergency, including fiscal aid and special grants.
“I think that putting pressure on businesses like bars and restaurants risks stopping the economy,” Catalano said. “There was some public aid during the COVID period, and thanks to that, we started to see the light at the end of the tunnel … Now it’s time for the government to step in again.”
Roberto Castroni owns an historic grocery store that bears his family name in central Rome. He agrees with many retailers that the government has to act swiftly to avoid an economic disaster.
“If businesses survive, they continue to produce and they can pay their loans. But if the government lets them die, then it’s a catastrophe,” Castroni told Anadolu Agency.
“Some funds could be provided through non-repayable grants, while others could be offered by the banking system via long-term loans,” he noted.
Italy’s caretaker government led by Mario Draghi is readying a new package of measures aimed at helping families and businesses weather the energy crisis as the winter comes.
However, finding a concrete response to record-high inflation and soaring energy costs weighing on businesses and families will be the first challenging task of the new Italian government that will emerge from national elections to be held on Sept. 25.