Arrigo Cipriani, the proprietor of the legendary Harry’s Bar in Venice, has for more than 60 years been meeting the demands of exacting drinkers, from Humphrey Bogart to Orson Welles and Truman Capote. But with turnover down by 20-30% in the past four years and deadlock over a deal to reduce the staff’s cut of the profits, he has been forced to step aside from managing the bar’s affairs.
In return for a moratorium on the €6m (£4.9m) debts of his family’s holding firm, the banks have insisted on sidelining Cipriani in favour of executives put in by the investment fund that partners the Cipriani family. The bar – famous for its smooth Bellini (white peach juice and prosecco) cocktails, succulent beef Carpaccio and challenging prices – has no less than 70 employees to ensure super-attentive service.
“That is our philosophy,” Cipriani told the Guardian. “But their salaries are becoming very high. The cost of our staff is 55% of turnover, compared with 33% [at Harry’s Bar] in London.” Cipriani said he had tried to get his waiters and cooks to accept a pay cut.
“Everything would be easy elsewhere. But when you come to do it in Italy, you have to deal with the unions,” he said.
Cipriani, who took over the management of the bar in 1950, said the change did not mean he would cease working there. But future negotiations with staff will be handled by two representatives of the investment fund that holds a 20% stake in the firm that owns the original Harry’s Bar at the mouth of the Grand Canal, as well as branches across the globe from Los Angeles to Abu Dhabi.