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Hands off hospitality
The Euro Zone opinion

Hands off hospitality

There aren't many laws covering bar and restaurant opening hours and the sale of alcohol in Spain, which is why the country has one of the most open, vibrant and (perhaps paradoxically) least drunken nightlife scenes in Europe, writes Mark Nayler

Mark Nayler

Malaga

Friday, 5 April 2024, 17:26

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Yolanda Díaz, Spain's labour minister, recently implied that the Socialist-led government might try to impose earlier closing times on Spanish bars and restaurants. It's the worst idea she's ever had; in fact it's unnerving, because it suggests that this is the sort of issue her leftist coalition discusses at cabinet meetings, when there are much more important things to be worried about.

In her humourless zeal, Díaz has forgotten that not everything that happens in a country is the government's business - unless, of course, that government is a totalitarian regime such as China's. Currently, there aren't many laws covering bar and restaurant opening hours and the sale of alcohol in Spain, which is why the country has one of the most open, vibrant and (perhaps paradoxically) least drunken nightlife scenes in Europe.

Deregulation has proved to be a powerful stimulant to the growth of Spain's hospitality industry, which is vital to the country's status as a tourism superpower. Lockdown and other Covid-related measures - such as forcing bars and restaurants to close at 6pm - showed how damaging governmental interference in that sector can be. Now, as the Spanish economy continues to recover from misguided pandemic policies, a hands-off approach to hospitality will yield the best results.

Spain's bars and restaurants open and close when they want, often on a maddeningly unpredictable schedule. The last two times I've tried to book at my favourite neighbourhood 'mesón' on a Thursday night, for example, it was inexplicably closed (meaning that both of those weeks it was open just two evenings out of the seven). Annoying as this was, it also demonstrated the high degree of autonomy exercised by businesses in the Spanish catering sector.

In small towns and villages, most establishments close for one or even two days a week to give their staff a proper weekend off. It might be objected to that bars and restaurants in big cities can't do this because of greater competition and commercial pressure. If so, then it's up to their management teams to better arrange shift and staffing schedules to make sure that nobody works a seven day week or excessively long shifts.

If Díaz's pointless suggestion became law, it wouldn't eradicate the late-night aspect of Spanish culture. It would merely reduce the amount of money businesses make from it, to the detriment of the entire economy. By forcing the country's bars and restaurants to close at 1am, you wouldn't stop Spaniards and converted expats wanting to eat, drink and socialise after that time: they'd just do it in private or at establishments that choose to flout the law.

In other words, they'd resort to Prohibition-era tactics (and look how successful Prohibition was in preventing the manufacture and consumption of alcohol in 1920s America). Díaz would discover, no doubt to her great disappointment, that national habits and preferences can't be altered by Royal Decree.

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