Italy’s Michelin-starred restaurants blazing trails with delivery during pandemic

When Italy first announced its national coronavirus lockdown March 9, famed Italian chef Anthony Genovese figured he’d close his two-star Michelin restaurant, Il Pagliaccio, and wait for the quarantine to be lifted.

“I started seeing other serious restaurants in Italy changing their business model and offering delivery services, and I said, ‘No, no, no, I’ll never do that,'” Genovese recalled during an interview. “The biggest reason was that I didn’t know anything about the delivery business. It was completely different from what I understood.”

But as the lockdown dragged on, Genovese began to have second thoughts. A conversation with another leading chef, Giulio Terrinoni, owner of the nearby one-star Michelin property Per Me, changed Genovese’s mind.

By late April, Genovese had opened Turne, a delivery service with a menu and culinary philosophy completely separate from that of Il Pagliaccio — yet still made with the same honed skills that earned Genovese a place among Italy’s most celebrated restaurateurs.

When Turne opened for business, Genovese formally joined the ranks of some of Italy’s best-known chefs offering food delivery during the lockdown. The prominent figures include Massimo Bottura of the Osteria Francescana in Modena and Enrico Crippa from Piazza Duomo in Alba — both among the world’s most famous chefs.

“There’s no exact count, but of the 350 or so restaurants in Italy with at least one Michelin star, dozens have started offering delivery services during the national lockdown,” Luca Iaccarino, the author of multiple books on Italian restaurants, told Xinhua. “It’s a new trend.”

Iaccarino said offering delivery services allow restaurants to keep staff employed and create a revenue stream for owners while providing better food options for their community.

Before the lockdown, such a trend would have been almost unimaginable in a tradition-laden country like Italy. Michelin-starred restaurants — a Michelin star is among the most prestigious accolades an establishment can earn — not only pride themselves on their food, but also on the sophisticated atmosphere they create, including a high level of service and a polished aesthetic on the plates served. None of that lends itself to home delivery.

Iaccarino pointed out that Genovese and Terrinoni, along with Bottura and Crippa and nearly all of the top-level Italian chefs that have added delivery services during the lockdown, have done so under a different name to avoid confusion. Most menus are different than that of their parent restaurant — expertly prepared but less delicate, easier to transport, and almost always with a more moderate price tag.

Angelo Troiani, chef and co-owner of Convivio Troiani, a one-star Michelin restaurant in Rome, was among the first to recognize the importance of delivery services under the terms of the national quarantine.

“We closed our doors on March 10, the first day the lockdown entered into force, and nine days later, on March 19, we served our first meal via delivery,” Troiani said in an interview. Troiani even called the parallel version of his restaurant “Delivery” to make its intentions clear.

Troiani echoed the comments of other chefs when he said he plans to maintain the delivery service even after June 1. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said restaurants will be able to open their doors for dining in again from the date, nearly three months after they closed.

Because of social distancing rules, most restaurants will have put more distance between tables, which will reduce the number of customers they can serve. Delivery services can help fill extra capacity, Troiani said.

“Any chef who develops a delivery business that they’ll close down at the end of the quarantine is wasting their time,” he added. “Our delivery service is going to be a part of our business plan going forward.”