Helga Gerritzen (19960033) - We can be part of the solution, but don't get the chance
"How's it going?" Helga sounds very relaxed when I ask her about last year's roller coaster. "We always stay positive and look at what is still possible, even though the bad news for the hospitality industry keeps on coming. The entire industry has been hoping for improvements for months, and we have to deal with new disappointments every press conference. "Paul, her husband, has been an entrepreneur in the hospitality industry for much longer than Helga. His enthusiasm convinced her, and fifteen years ago they started a business together in Den Bosch. The couple now runs two restaurants and a brasserie in Brabant with great enthusiasm. "Because we've been around for so long, we are not in immediate trouble, we can take a hit. It’s much harder for entrepreneurs who had just started or had made a large investment in their business before the lockdown. They are much more likely to get into trouble financially. And the frustrating thing is that as an entrepreneur in this line of business, you are not likely to get any loans right now. "Gerritzen does understand the motives of creditors but would have liked the banks taking a bit more responsibility in this situation. "As soon as they hear about your business, all options evaporate, they are not willing to bear that risk. You can forget a current account now, while for example the temporary emergency bridging measure (NOW) is paid later than the salaries must be paid, so you instantly have a problem. And of course, nobody wants to fire their people, but sometimes it can’t be avoided."
As a result, more criminal money will start to circulate now, says Gerritzen. "You have to imagine what it is like for some entrepreneurs: everything they have worked so hard for evaporates before their very eyes. That is really very difficult. At such a moment people sometimes make wrong decisions, you cannot simply dismiss that as a no-brainer and “I would never do that”, entrepreneurs put their whole hearts into their company, it’s not easy to walk away from that if you are offered a way out. The most important issue is that, at the moment, there is no perspective, says Gerritzen, "so we don't know how long we will have to make ends meet without a steady turn-over. As entrepreneurs, we are of course used to a certain degree of risk, which is part of the deal and that is fine, but perspective is very important in this situation. If I look ahead, I think we will be able to receive guests again sometime in June. It all depends on the amount of hospital admissions, of course, so it's still anybody’s guess."
Villages are in favor
Our brasserie is in Heesch, east of Den Bosch, and we notice that this is now an advantage compared to our restaurants in the city of Den Bosch itself. There is more loyalty in the villages, people come by just to see how we are doing. In addition, there is more room to comfortably follow the rules, so it feels safer for customers to visit us. In a village, we share the public space with far fewer people than in the cities, so that offers real perspective for the hospitality industry rurally. I would be delighted if these difficult times could have a positive effect in that way."
For the cities, Gerritzen sees many opportunities. "Of course, I don't wish bankruptcy on anyone at all, but they are inevitable. The question is how these gaps will be filled and I really hope for an imaginative approach. The internet has permanently changed the retail and hospitality industry and these lockdowns have accelerated that process. As far as I am concerned, versatility and small scale should be part of the answer." The entrepreneur is also vice-chairman of the Koninklijke Horeca Nederland (national representation of the industry), department Den Bosch, and in that capacity has a lot of contact with the municipality. "Our interests sometimes seem to conflict, but in the end we all have the same goal, being a vibrant city. Fortunately, it’s a good working relationship, so we get ample opportunity to contribute and share ideas. "She is less enthusiastic about national politics when it comes to opening up the hospitality industry. "I am disappointed about that. Public spaces are packed with people: parks, squares, you can see things going wrong everywhere, but there is no capacity to enforce the regulations. If we are allowed to open up our terraces, we can play an important role in crowd control. I don’t understand why we are not given the same opportunity as retail with their constructions such as click & collect and shopping by appointment. The arguments of the government do not make sense. Shopping by appointment involves just as much movement of people as going out for lunch. If necessary, reserve one day for hospitality visits and the other day for shopping. There is much more room to cater to the different needs of the public and entrepreneurs at the same time.
The entrepreneurial couple pays special attention to their staff, “we have to, because they are outgoing people who enjoy excitement and conviviality, otherwise you don't work in the hospitality industry.” More in general, Gerritzen is concerned about the supply of staff in the sector. People leave the hospitality industry under these circumstances; this is a natural time to switch. The lobbyist inside shows herself again, "We are talking to, for example, the local university about these developments. Young people are now being told that there is little perspective in our sector and that is going to harm us in the long run."
Nevertheless, there is that positive outlook again: "We are also happy that other sectors are doing very well, it is important that the economy keeps going so that the rest will soon be included in the way up. We’ll get back up, I am convinced. "
Helga Gerritzen (19960033)
Owner Restaurant Wolters in Heesch, Restaurant Visserij and Bistro Allerlei in Den Bosch.