An authentic ambassador of Italian lifestyle based on all things beautiful, made well, and good, and values of authenticity and respect for tradition. It’s the key role of Italian hospitality that emerges from the research, Ristorazione, lusso e territorio: Drivers dell’Italian way of living (Foodservice, luxury, and the territory: Drivers of the Italian way of living), promoted by HostMilano and conducted by Magda Antonioli Corigliano, the director of the Master in Tourism Economics of the Bocconi University, and MET Bocconi researcher Sara Bricchi. The strengths of a growing leadership in Italy and across the globe lie in the territory – not only the landscape but also the terroir for top-quality raw materials – its manufacturing vocation, which combines culture and know-how, and creativity based on identifying elements.
An industry made up of 325 thousand companies and a turnover worth € 51 billion
Italians eat out always more often, over one-third of families’ food expenditure, about 35%, equal to € 75 billion. Unlike domestic consumption, these figures have remained stable throughout the crisis and have started to grow again in the past three years. All this reflects in the unique density of catering companies across Italy, which are over 325 thousand, more than half of which (53.1%) are restaurants but also mobile catering businesses, thereby confirming the increasing popularity of street food. Moreover, 64.3% of the latter sell food to the public, equal to approximately 111 thousand companies. Lombardy (15.4%) is the region with the highest concentration of restaurants, followed by Lazio (10.9%) and Campania (9.4%). Street food has the same podium: Lombardy (13.9%) followed by Lazio (11.3%) and Campania (9.3%). The out-of-home industry and Italian entrepreneurship in general are dominated by SMEs. The average number of employees is 5.6 for a total of 376 thousand employees (Source: FIPE, 2016).
In Europe, Italian hospitality plays a primary role. With approximately € 51 billion in 2014, of which 40% attributable to restaurants alone, Italian companies represent one-seventh of the turnover of the entire sector in EU-28 (375 billion) and over one-tenth of the added value (€ 18 billion out of 152), 37.4% due to restaurants. In Italy, there has been an overall growth of the sector in the period from 2008 to 2014. Estimates for 2015 foresee an additional 2.8% increase (Source: calculations based on Eurostat data, 2016).
Unique experiences, conviviality, and sharing are the keywords for tomorrow’s catering industry
Research has also shown that the professional hospitality and food&beverage industries are moving towards premium segments as a result of increasingly aspirational consumption. The food, wine, and luxury liquor sectors have also been growing over the past few years, with a +4% increase between 2015 and 2016. However, it’s the hospitality sector that benefits most from this evolution, with an increasing number of excellent restaurants specialising in a niche targeting specific market segments. Over the past few years, unlike the direct sale of luxury food and wine, these segments have increased considerably. Of the € 45 billion turnover in the F&B sector, 46% refers to the restaurant industry (Source: Bain & Company and Fondazione Altagamma, 2016).
This evolution is not just quantitative. Even the most sought-after foods are changing: meat, salt, and butter are decreasing, while vegetables are on the rise. We are eating healthier and more veggies even in restaurants; however, we’re not giving up on more convivial dishes such as entrées and desserts any time soon. The social value of what we choose to eat and how we eat it is one of the constants emerging from the research (Source: FIPE, 2017). And the way we choose where to eat is changing too. About nine Italians out of ten look for information on the Internet before going to a new location (24% always, 37.5% often, and 25.9% sometimes), whereas only 7.9% seldom and 4.6% never does. Online reviews also play a part in the choice. They are very important for 23.5%, quite important for 63.7% and not very important or not important at all for 12.8%. People mainly search for prices (69%), reviews (60.3%), and type of cuisine (59.9%). Opening hours and days (53.8%) and the location’s position (43.8%) are other details searched online. But the web is so much more than just a source of information. It’s also a place where to share experiences. The social aspect is increasingly relevant to enjoy conviviality: 61.1% likes to share for fun or the pleasure of doing so, whereas status is important for 28.2%, and 27.8% likes to share unusual aspects and experiences (Source: TradeLab for Mixer, 2016).
In this context, the human factor is central. The direct and often friendly relationship with restaurateurs is another “secret ingredient” in Italian style hospitality’s recipe for success. It also helps create that “unique experience” in which the client takes the centre stage, preferring conviviality in the leisure segment. A cosy environment and friendly staff are important for 81.6%. Table setting and dish presentation is the second most important factor (51.2%) – thereby confirming the Italian attitude in appreciating all things beautiful – followed by the interior design with 44.4% (Source: TradeLab for Mixer, 2016).
Milan: when technology and innovation win over millennials
While the human factor remains central, it is also true that technology and innovation are becoming increasingly important to win over millennials. From tablet menus to entertain customers waiting to be served to smartphone payment apps on the front-end. Even in the kitchen new food equipment technologies allow for the creation of recipes that were unthinkable up to a while ago, thanks to new hi-tech ingredient treatment, storage, and cooking methods. Today, you can no longer separate the real world from the digital one in experiential sectors, such as the restaurant industry. 74% of consumers show a likelihood of up to 40% to purchase from brands that clearly define their values also through social media. 46% of the companies that interact with their customers on the web receive on average more positive feedback. 55% of these companies claim that social media help increase their business. The digital traces customers leave help map their preferences and consumption behaviour for greater customisation and a richer service (Source: ILTM and Euromonitor, 2015).
In Italy, Milan – a city with a particularly high concentration of high-end restaurants – represents a very interesting case study. Out of 4,685 restaurants that FIPE has counted in the city, 215 are mentioned in the most authoritative guides (Michelin Guide, L’Espresso’s I Ristoranti d’Italia and Il Gambero Rosso’s Ristoranti d’Italia). More in detail, 102 of Milan’s restaurants were mentioned in the Michelin Guide (47.4% of the total), 101 in L’Espresso’s Guide (47%), and 156 in Il Gambero Rosso’s (72.6%). Most of them are restaurants, whereas pubs, bistrots, taverns, and wine bars don’t make up 16%. When it comes to type of offering, contemporary cuisine dominates the scene (24.2%). About 10% proposes Milanese cuisine, highlighting the strong bond with the territory, and as many the typical cuisine of other Italian regions. When it comes to ethnic cuisine, Asian is the winner (almost 18%), whereas the incidence of fusion cuisine (0.9%) and vegetarian/vegan restaurants (1.9%) is still quite low (Source: MET calculations).
The analysis of the experts’ opinions shows how the quality of the food, chef’s creativity, service, and atmosphere are the most important aspects. Milanese, Italian, elegant, classic, menu, chef, recipes, and tavern are the main keywords. Hotel restaurants are another phenomenon on the rise in Milan and in Italy. In the past, these restaurants were considered more a need than an opportunity. Today, not only they are an element that characterises the guest’s experience, but also a business opportunity unrelated to the stay at the hotel. This way, the hotel becomes a point of reference for the area it is in. 60.9% of Milan’s 5-star hotels manages one (or more) restaurants mentioned in the three guides. This figure is even more impressive if we consider that the 14 restaurants of Milan’s 5-star hotels gather 23.8% of the Michelin stars, 17.5% of the chef hats, and 24.7% of the forks awarded to Milan (Source: MET calculations).
In conclusion, the research confirms that hospitality is a key component in the international success of Italian lifestyle excellence, and acts in synergy with the agri-food sector. The hospitality/agri-food system stands out for its inclination to operate as a supply chain, combining the care for unique raw materials and a world-leading food equipment industry, with a keen eye for Italian design and the ability not only to create new concepts but also to develop the entire project – from the fork to the interior design, and the culinary offering –as a contractor.
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