On 8th September the Swiss federal government announced that from Monday 13th September consumers would require a covid 19 certificate (proof of vaccination, negative test, or recovered from COVID-19) to sit inside restaurants and bars. The covid certificate also became mandatory for other indoor leisure activities.
In the two weeks following the introduction of the mandatory certificate (September 13-26, weeks 37-38), electronic payments in restaurants declined by 13% compared to the previous two weeks (August 30 – September 12, weeks 35-36). As Figure 1 shows, this drop is extraordinary, as during 2020 and 2019 no corresponding drop could be observed during the month of September.
Figure 1. Weekly electronic payment volume for food & beverage services in Switzerland 2019-2021.
One possible explanation for the drop is the end to the summer season and a reduction in spending by foreign guests. However, Figure 2 shows that spending by foreign cardholders declined by only 6.6% in week 37-38 compared to weeks 35-36. The decline in spending by domestic consumers is significantly stronger (13.8%).
Figure 2. Weekly electronic payment volume for food & beverage services in Switzerland 2021. Foreign vs. Domestic Cardholders.
A widely cited explanation for the decline in restaurant turnover in weeks 37-38 compared to weeks 35-36 is the cool and wet weather conditions leading to a decline in revenues from outdoor seating. Indeed, daily weather data (kindly provided by meteomatics) do show a significant decline in sunshine hours and temperature and a rise in precipitation for weeks 37-38 compared to weeks 35-36. However, as illustrated by Figure 3 for St. Gallen (Panel A) and Vaud (Panel B) over the period July – September, weather conditions seem only weakly correlated with restaurant turnover.
Figure 3. Daily weather conditions and electronic payment volume for food & beverage services. Panel A: Canton St. Gallen. Panel B: Canton Vaud.
A closer look at restaurant turnover by location and day of the week, suggests that – accounting for weather conditions (as measured by hours of sunshine)- the observed turnover in weeks 37-38 is substantially lower than in weeks 35-36. Moreover, the correlation between the weather and restaurant turnover is much stronger in weeks 37-38 than in weeks 35-36 implying a greater sensitivity of food and beverage services to weather conditions since the introduction of the certificate.
If the introduction of the covid-19 certificates was partly responsible for the decline in restaurant turnover, we would expect to see a larger decline in those regions where the certificates imposed higher transaction costs on potential restaurant guests, i.e. in cantons with lower vaccination rates. Figure 5 shows that this is indeed the case. Here we relate the data on electronic payments in restaurants to the data on the share of the population which is fully vaccinated as per 1st September (data provided by BAG from https://www.covid19.admin.ch/de/vaccination/persons). The canton St. Gallen, with a vaccination rate of 45.7% on September 1st experienced a decline in restaurant turnover of -23.6% from weeks 35-36 to weeks 37-38. By comparison, canton Vaud with a vaccination rate of 57% experienced a decline of only -15.2%.
Figure 5. Decline in electronic payment volume for food & beverage services (weeks 37-38 compared to weeks 35-36) vs. vaccination rate by canton.
Cantons with low / high vaccination rates are likely to differ in other respects which may have affected the development of restaurant turnover in the second half of September. Our analysis thus does not allow us to make a statement about the magnitude of a causal impact of covid-19 certificates on restaurant turnover. That said, the correlations presented above would seem to support some interpretations of the data more than others.