A regulation for the Italian Home Restaurant: Ddl AC-3258, pros and cons.

A regulation for the Italian Home Restaurant: Ddl AC-3258, pros and cons.

When talking about the sharing economy, its legislative dimension is always a burning issue. In this context, in recent times the regulation of the so-called home restaurant has been high on the agenda, especially in Italy. But what is it the home restaurant?

As defined on the Home Restaurant website, “the Home Restaurant is the opportunity given to anyone who loves to stay in the kitchen to turn their house and their own kitchen in a restaurant occasionally open for friends, acquaintances and strangers (travelers especially) who will have the chance to experience the original kitchen of the places frequented regularly or during a trip.” In this way, private citizens can organize paid dinners in their house through an online platform.

The trend started in 2006 with the guerrilla restaurants in New York[1], and then spread in 2009 in the UK. Thanks to social networks, the phenomenon has spread like wildfire, leading to the birth of the Supper Club[2] of New York, the Cuban “particular houses” and the Home Restaurants, realities that show us how the kitchen passion can turn into a real business while respecting the law of each country. The Home Restaurant offers the added value of territory discovery, making it possible to experience typical recipes made with local products, and directly cooked at home by grandmothers, mothers, aunts, sisters and brothers who turn into chefs and offer opportunities to meet, exchange, swap ideas, and eat in the fullest respect of tradition.

Faced with these new trends, traditional restaurants have been highly critical, considering the home restaurants as unfair competition. Instead, those who support the service believe there is nothing disloyal, and that home restaurants promote competition, the main engine of the business-initiative system on which liberal economies are based. Restaurants are public places: according to Italian law, this means that they are places open to the public, where business activities take place with the aim of providing services to the public itself. Anyone can access them freely and make use of the services provided. Homes are just homes, closed to the public, and since they are not public exercises, they are not subject to the same rules restaurants have to respect. To those who claim that home restaurants expose people to the risk of food poisoning, the supporters of the service reply underlying that FIPE data (Italian Federation of Public Concerns) show that the risk of poisoning in a restaurant is twice as much as the risk in a house, and in both cases the risk is minimal.

In Italy, the heavy critiques and attacks to the formula of the home restaurant coming from the traditional services have brought to the definition of a specific bill (the Ddl. AC-3258) on the discipline of the restaurant business in private houses, presented at the Chamber of Deputies and approved with 326 votes in favor (and only 23 negative votes) on January 17th 2017. While the next step, the discussion and  approval at the Senate, will take a long time, the bill is already triggering controversy and polemics.

What does it propose?

  • First of all, the home restaurant activity is considered an occasional activity and, for this reason, it may not bill more than 5 thousand euro per year, nor serve a seating capacity of over 500 units per calendar year;
  • It introduces the obligation to rely on dedicated digital platforms to interact with potential customers, and, above all, the mandatory payment through electronic systems to prevent tax evasion (phone reservations and cash payments are not allowed);
  • A requirement that has caused much discussion is the mandatory online presentation of the SCIA, a declaration for starting the commercial activity;
  • In addition, a health certification (hygienic sanitary certification – HACCP) is required, as well as the stipulation of a home insurance that covers the risks connected with the activity;
  • The “kitchen operators” must also meet the integrity requirements of Article 71 of Legislative Decree 59/2010 (the absence of criminal convictions for various offenses);
  • Approved also the quibble ratified in the article 5: “the home restaurant business cannot be exercised in residential real estate unities in which tourists’ accommodation activities in a non-business form or rental activities for periods of less than thirty days are exercised”; the article expresses the clear will to break the combo “social eating-Airbnb”.

The bill has been met with different reactions: from one side the FIPE and the Fiepet Confesercenti called themselves satisfied, since, in their opinion, there is finally an almost complete law ending tax evasion; the law rapporteur, Angelo Senaldi (PD), defines the law “a necessary intervention that aims to regulate a sector, that of restaurants in private houses, which is developing exponentially in the wake of the broader law sharing economy. It aims to protect both operators and consumers and has been written respecting  transparency at its maximum, since payments will be made electronically and then tracked through web platforms that combine the operators providing the catering service to the final customer. It is an innovative legislation, the first in Europe, which tends to boost the sharing economy in line with the European directive”. On the opposite side the home restaurant supporters, led by the founder of the web platform homerestaurant.com, Giambattista Scivoletto, have expressed a clear disappointment towards the bill, claiming that it discourages and slows down both those who are already in the sector and those who wish to enter it, and advantages only the restaurateurs’ lobbies. They consider its approach discriminatory, since it impedes the promotion through private channels such as social networks and favors bureaucratic slowness. Scivoletto criticizes both the registration requirement on dedicated platforms and the electronic payment, which in his opinion “will prevent 85% of likely openings”. Confedilizia, the associations of house owners, is of the same advice and interprets the bill as the “de profundis” of the home restaurant, since it imposes “limitations, prohibitions, restrictions towards a way by which some Italians try to work hard to improve their condition, helping to move an asphyxiated economy like ours”. Therefore, according to the home restaurant supporters, the Parliament has sought to safeguard the FIPE’s interests, often intolerant in terms of openness towards new models of business, even if the European Community had given clear guidelines on this regard. In June 2016, the Commissioner for the Internal Market, Elzbieta Bienkowska, had indeed reminded the State Members of the importance of enhancing and helping the sharing economy to grow, even launching a “European Agenda for the sharing economy” (available here).

Among those who criticize the bill there is Cristiano Rigon, founder of the famous Italian social eating platform Gnammo (with more than 210 thousand users), who was indirectly called into the discussion by the text itself, as guarantor of the activity. He welcomes the fact that there will be a rule regulating the home restaurant business, as this will allow all aspiring chefs to experience the sharing economy without fear of going against the law. Nevertheless, in his opinion, proposing such stringent limits demonstrates that the real nature of the home restaurant has not been understood, since it is not related to the classical restaurant experience and it does not represent a rival but a development for the sector. According to Rigon, it would have been more appropriate to start regulating the entire framework of the sharing economy and only after that looking at more specific sectors. He also criticizes the limit imposed of 5 thousand euros, a peak that goes against the EU dictates suggesting not to put limits to this kind of business models. The same reasoning brings to criticize the prohibition to be a home restaurant if already joining the Airbnb platform. Therefore, while Rigon has distanced himself from those rejecting the full text, he stresses the importance of not blocking the growth of this kind of activities and hopes  the Senate will be able to make the legislation simpler.

Now it is up to the Senate, and the hope is that innovation will not be hindered in the process.

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Il 17 gennaio 2017 la Camera ha approvato il disegno di legge sugli Home Restaurant. Dopo molte critiche e polemiche soprattutto da parte dei ristoratori tradizionali, il vuoto normativo in cui si trovava questo tipo di servizio è stato riempito con la proposta del Ddl AC-3258. Tuttavia la legge non trova tutti concordi. Se per alcuni è stata finalmente normata un’attività che rischiava di alimentare l’evasione fiscale e lo si è fatto nel rispetto delle indicazioni europee; per altri invece le direttive europee non sono state propriamente seguite e la proposta corre il rischio di penalizzare duramente l’Home Restaurant a favore delle lobby dei ristoratori. Ora la parola passa al Senato che valuterà il ddl e stabilirà se snellirlo o meno.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] The guerrilla restaurants, born as a protest of some chefs dismissed from great restaurants in London and New York, decided to serve great food at the cost of production. They are unconventional and anti-crisis places that at the beginning took advantage of the simultaneous presence on the square of many unemployed great chefs.

[2] A supper club is a traditional dining establishment that also functions as a social club.