With Hopes and Setbacks Food Services Reopen in Havana

An employee of the Coppelia ice cream parlor, in Havana, this Friday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 24 September 2021 — “We must take advantage of today, tomorrow is only for those who book by phone,” an enthusiastic customer said this morning outside the Coppelia ice cream parlor, in Havana, one of the state premises that opened its areas with tables available to the public this Friday, after months offering only the To-go option.

Like the Cathedral of Ice Cream, other state establishments in El Vedado and Centro Habana are also organizing their operations to begin receiving customers after the authorities reported on Thursday the reopening of gastronomic services in the capital and other provinces of the country.

“Consumption within the facility was suspended, but it was possible to buy take out,” a woman who was waiting in line for take-out ice cream told this newspaper. Along with her, several people carried five-liter containers to take the product home.

Although the authorities announced that the central location would only begin by serving those who reserve a table through various telephone numbers, the mechanism still did not seem well oiled and the employees postponed the start of this type of service until Saturday.

“All this time ago, people have lined up here to buy ice cream to take home. But now things have become a bit complicated for them because they are serving very little at the tables,” Yoana, 25, explains to 14ymedio. “But that’s only a few days, you’ll see that by spending some money on the workers here, everything will be solved,” adds the young woman, who this Friday was able to enter Coppelia to consume the two sundaes allowed per person.

Yoana pointed out that the tables are well separated from each other and only two people are allowed at each one. The young woman ended up ordering two ice cream sundaes: one with almonds and another with strawberry-bonbon, for a value of 25 pesos each, which came accompanied by six sweet cookies.

Despite the reopening, this newspaper was able to verify that the line this Friday morning was like any other day and in less than 20 minutes customers could be seated at a table. All the ice cream parlor’s salons were open, except for the “4 Jewels,” which is air-conditioned and sells a creamier and more expensive ice cream. Formerly, the ice cream was sold in Cuban convertible pesos, but after the ’Ordering Task’* it went to Cuban pesos. This Coppelia location is among the most visited in the capital.

A few yards from Coppelia there are two other very busy state establishments on Avenida 23 in El Vedado in Havana: the Buona Sera restaurants, which planned to serve customers in the afternoon, and El Cochinito, where its employees could not confirm if they would receive customers this Friday.

As in Coppelia, at the entrance of Buona Sera and El Cochinito they have placed a table with a container containing bleach, and according to the hygienic sanitary measures imposed by the authorities, it is mandatory to disinfect your hands before entering any public establishment.

The governor of Havana, Reinaldo García Zapata, said this Thursday on the State TV Roundtable, when announcing the reopening, that it is essential to maintain the use of the mask, the disinfection of the hands and surfaces of the establishments, the locating of tables two yards apart, and among others, and a limited capacity depending on the characteristics of the premises.

Taking reservations by phone is viewed with suspicion by customers. “I am afraid that this is going to be allow the employees to sell the places and only accept their friends and resellers. As a 76-year-old retiree said, who is going to control whether someone actually called, or if they were put on the list for being a partner of a worker.”

“There are very bad experiences in reserving by phone. In the 80s some restaurants in Havana offered their service like this and when the number was not busy the phone would ring for long minutes and no one answered,” the man recalls. “Once part of the telephone exchange even collapsed when thousands of people called to reserve a turn to buy toys because of the rationing.”

“The measures are still the same, but I didn’t really see that anyone complied with them all: the bleach bottle on Coppelia’s door is there, but everyone passed by as if it didn’t exist, nobody took that on,” said Yoana. “Of course, everyone walks around with a facemask and some with their chlorine bottle in their backpack or purse.”

The authorities insisted that food services be reserved in advance to avoid prolonged stays while waiting fator the entrance of the premises. Private businesses such as Lolita del Mar, Mercy Bar Café, Bom Apetite and Ranchón Costa Bella, among others, have published on their social networks that from this Friday they will be offering food services at their facilities but customers will also be able to consume the orders at home because they will maintain Take-out service.

In other private businesses in the municipality of Playa, among them Tropikna Sport Café and Glamor Café, they are waiting for the authorization to open from Public Health, but the “approval” of the inspectors from the Hygiene and Epidemiology Directorate is still lacking, affirm the owners of the premises.

However, most of these businesses have told their customers that they will continue to bring the food to their homes and the main platforms that manage these purchases have extended their delivery hours throughout the capital. “Here we will continue to provide home delivery service from our premises to the door of your house so that you maintain your comfort and care,” reads the announcement.

Along with the 533 locales that will provide in-person food services, the notary services and Civil and Property registries have been resumed.

*Translator’s note: Tarea ordenamiento = the [so-called] ‘Ordering Task’ which is a collection of measures that includes eliminating the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), leaving the Cuban peso as the only national currency, raising prices, raising salaries (but not as much as prices), opening stores that take payment only in hard currency which must be in the form of specially issued pre-paid debit cards, and others.


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