These are not easy days for Brussels. As the city tries to return back to normal after the terrorist attacks last month, restaurants in Belgium’s capital city are facing tough times.
While many have been putting up a brave face over the past few months, more and more Brussels restauranteurs are starting to feel the pressure following months of difficulties, and tensions seem to be rising.
Only this weekend, Lionel Rigolet, chef of two Michelin star restaurant Comme Chez Soi said that “Brussels is dying,” in Belgian newspapers l’Echo and De Tijd.
And in a sign that tensions seem to be rising, the Brussels mayor Yvan Mayeur, was asked to leave a gastronomic restaurant in the city centre because the chef was angry with him.
The pedestrianisation of the Brussels city centre in summer last year was heavily criticised by restaurant and shop owners in the city centre with many restaurants reporting considerable drops in turnover. But the situation is far more complex than this, particularly given the impact of the Paris attacks and the subsequent Brussels lockdown in November as well as the Brussels attacks of last month.
With tourism figures considerably down and with the Easter holidays in the way, restauranteurs are only now starting to assess the impact this has had on their business. And the figures don’t look good in a sector that is known for its small margins.
Comme Chez Soi, Brussels’ most famous restaurant (it was the first restaurant to get three Michelin stars outside of France) which celebrates its 90th anniversary later this year, has had to put a part of its staff on ‘temporary unemployment’ for the first time in its history.
The restaurant has never needed to keep a part of its staff at home. “The restaurants and hotels are nearly empty. In the centre of Brussels, shops are closing one after the other,” Rigolet said.
The Comme Chez Soi chef Michelin starred chef mentioned the terror attacks in Paris and Brussels but added that the reason for this situation is not only this. “Last year, we lost 18,000 euros in turnover in two months after the introduction of the pedestrian zone in central Brussels. There is a problem also with the Brussels tunnels. Since the Stephanie tunnel was closed, we do not have clients from Uccle and the surroundings. Many are just avoiding the city centre.”
Meanwhile, the chef of Cecilia Melanie Englebin was quoted by brusselsnieuws.be as saying that due to the pedestrian zone she has seen a considerable decrease in turnover and risks bankruptcy.
She was the chef who asked the Brussels mayor to leave her restaurant. “I asked him politely to leave the restaurant and explained to him that due to the pedestrianisation of the Brussels city centre people are no longer coming to the centre. There is also the question of security in the evening. The end result is I have a decrease in turnover of 40 per cent,” the young chef of Cecilia was quoted as saying.
It is not just the top end restaurants that are finding the going tough.
Chez Leon, a Brussels institution in the ‘tourisitic’ Rue de Bouchers, announced that it was offering a 50 per cent discount on the bill (excluding drinks) from 1 April to 30 April to try and get things going again. On top of that children below the age of 12 eat free when accompanied by at least 1 adult.
A restauranteur who opened a restaurant in central Brussels in October told Food and Wine Gazette this week that he was considering closing the restaurant at lunch time and instead focusing on delivery service for lunch, though he said the evening service is doing well.
The next months will be crucial for the city. The people of Brussels and tourists alike should keep this in mind and make every effort possible to assist local businesses. We owe it to the city and we owe it to them. After all, they are what make a city come to life.