A Spanish restaurateur, fearing a drop in business due to swine flu, is seeking to pull in customers by offering a sanitised -- and hopefully virus-free -- environment.
Miguel Angel de la Cruz, manager of the Mesa y Placer (Table and Pleasure) eatery in Madrid, said he was forced to act ahead of a feared 'second wave' of swine flu this autumn, which is "more dangerous to business than the economic crisis."
"We are facing a very difficult autumn. We have therefore had to try and anticipate the impact of the H1N1 flu which has completely paralysed the sector in Mexico," said de la Cruz.
So, instead of a free aperitif, his customers receive disinfectant hand gel and a sanitised napkin before reading menus that are covered in plastic to reduce the risk of contamination.
The meals are prepared by chefs wearing surgical face masks, and all staff must have their body temperatures checked before starting work to ensure they do not have the flu.
De la Cruz said another Madrid restaurant in the same group, Plato y Placer, in a more touristy district of the city, has introduced the same measures.
There, "the Japanese, who are very careful about hygiene, make up a large part of the clientele. They are coming less, but with these measures we hope they will return," he said.
It was unclear how effective the antiseptically clean ambience would be in combating swine flu, which has killed at least 21 people in Spain since it arrived in Europe in April, nor whether they would attract custom.
Spain's health ministry has not yet issued any advice for the restaurant sector, but recommends frequent handwashing and discarding tissues after using them, to combat the virus among the general public.
"An anti-tobacco law would save more lives than a dose of disinfectant gel, but it's still better than nothing," said Jose Carlos, a 43-year-old government worker as he ate lunch at Mesa y Placer with a colleague.
A visit to bars in the Plaza Santa Ana, one of the main tourist spots in Madrid's old town, showed customers continue to use their fingers to eat tapas, tasty Spanish snacks, and drop their used tissues on the floor rather than throwing them away.
"We are not going to stop living or change our habits because of the flu," said one, Marina, 42.
Hugo Vasquez, a manager of the Naturbier bar and restaurant, said establishments are waiting to "receive the information booklets from the health ministry, because there is a lot of uncertainty."
He said "sales have not been too affected by the economic crisis because of tourists," but said swine flu "scares us more than the recession as foreigners are likely to come less often."