one-on-one with the hospitality leader (6): viabledesign meets marco civitelli (managing director and co-owner of ceresio 7, milan)

January 9, 2022

On a Sunday afternoon in pre-Christmas Milan, I am meeting Marco Civitelli for a coffee to discuss the pandemic, the future of the restaurant business and the pressuring HR issues of the hospitality industry.

Image rights: Marco Civitelli, Detlef Schmidt

Marco Civitelli, Managing Director and Owner Ceresio 7, Milan

About Marco Civitelli and Ceresio 7

Growing up in Varese, Italy, Marco Civitelli started his hospitality career at the renowned Bulgari Hotel in Milan, right after he had finished his studies in Tourism Economics at the IULM in Milan. Since that time, Marco has been working in a close cooperation with Edoardo Grassi, Luca Pardini and Elio Sironi. The four hospitality experts became business partners in 2013, when they founded Ceresio 7, a joint venture with the owners of Dsquared2, Dean and Dan Caten. Located on top of the historic Enel building, delectable Italian dishes are being served in a contemporary elegant atmosphere.

Milan from Ceresio 7
Marco, thank you for taking the time to meet me. Last night I experienced a very lively Ceresio 7 restaurant. It looks like you and your team took the right measures to overcome the pandemic problems. What did you actually learn during the last 20 months?

Marco Civitelli: It is great having you here, Detlef. The pandemic has been a tough challenge for us, in particular because all of a sudden our well-balanced guest mix (50% guests from Milan, 50% foreigners) changed into nearly 100% Milan guests. This change forced us to modify our general approach as hosts to better serve the local community. We implemented a membership club with currently around 300 members. Being a member offers benefits like having exclusive access to our wine cellar including discounts for buying with us. We also put a strong focus on offering special experiences to our members, like guided excursions to vineries. This kind of relationship building resulted in a vital community and also helps us to learn more about the wants and needs of our members, to better serve them and their guests in our facilities. As you know, we do not only offer two fully catered swimming pools but also two bars in addition to our restaurant.

Did you discover any changes in the consumption behavior of your clients during the pandemic?

Marco Civitelli: Especially during the first phase of the pandemic, we realized certain social changes among our guests: Going out to a restaurant has become way more social. Guests came as families and groups of trusted friends, while before COVID-19 the social approach in having a joint meal was not clearly noticeable. We also invested in a special green menu, as the need for healthy food has become very transparent.

What changes did you implement at Ceresio 7 as a result of the pandemic?

Marco Civitelli: Even though we did not lay off any full-time employees during the pandemic, it was tough to find the necessary talents especially during the peak seasons in summer and fall. A lot of them have changed careers during the pandemic and are not on the hospitality market anymore. Such lack of talents forced us to reduce our capacity. Therefore, we decided to serve customers only in one pool area, while the other pool area has become an event space which we rent out for private events, to hotels and to companies. Since this approach has been a major success, we are expanding the facilities by adding a unique veranda (to be ready by September 2022). We also opened a second Ceresio 7 restaurant in Mykonos in summer 2021. This means we are still doing organic investments, even though a huge flexibility and great caution is required these days. But since we are 6 business partners, a joint governance is key to us.

Inside view of Ceresio 7
We all notice the pressure that the inflation puts on our businesses. How do you handle rising operating costs? Can you make an example?

Marco Civitelli: For sure, rising costs are a big topic for us. Together with our trusted suppliers, we therefore actively and regularly perform a supply management in order to find mutual sourcing solutions. Every month, we are meeting for a joint “menu-engineering” with a clear focus on profit/loss but also with a focus on an active management of our recipes, including adapting and removing dishes when necessary. But not all those measures lead to a success, which is why we had to do some minor price adaptions vis-à-vis our customers, including an increase of the cover charges. In terms of interior design, only necessary and minor changes (color, objects) are planned for 2022. The general vintage theme will stay unchanged.

Design object Ceresio 7
Art and design obviously play a major role in your hospitality concept and enrich your branding. Who picks and curates the displayed art and design?

Marco Civitelli: You are right. A major part of our interior design consists of artworks and design objects and thus truly influences our atmosphere and brand to the positive. Our interior design was developed by the design agency DIMORESTUDIO, Milan, highlighting roots to the New York and London urban culture. When it comes to investing in new art and design, all owners, including Dean and Dan Caten, always play a key role in the decision making process.

Would you like to ask me a question as well, dear Marco?

Marco Civitelli: Detlef, as a frequent traveler and experienced hospitality consultant you eat out in loads of places all around the world. I know you were eating last night with us. Did we surprise you by any chance?

Detlef Schmidt: While I was having my main, an excellent fish dish in combination with a plein Coke, someone of your team stopped at my table and recommended me an Italian white wine from the Naples region. The wine expert who I first thought was your sommelier turned out to be your business partner and co-owner of Ceresio 7. He made me try a remarkable wine that even a close friend from Naples admires. I was not only surprised but was also learning something new which I truly love, especially during my travels.

Thanks a lot for taking the time for this interview, Marco. I look forward to coming back to Milan and eating again with you; maybe on the new veranda in late summer 2022. In the meantime, all the best for you and Ceresio 7.

Marco Civitelli: It has been a pleasure. I hope that we find time to further exchange in 2022.