What to do when social distancing rules make it all but impossible to operate a cafe, bar or restaurant?
This is the challenge facing the UK’s hospitality sector, which generates £72bn a year and employs 3.2 million people.
When the lockdown finally lifts it is likely a phased approach will be taken. Restrictions may be placed on the number of customers allowed in at any one time and a gap of two metres or more may be required between tables.
For many businesses this will be impossible to implement.
“Keeping everyone two metres apart would require taking out two-thirds of the seats and that simply wouldn’t be economically viable,” London restaurateur Russell Norman said recently.
“And for a party of four, you would need a table which was 2.5 metres square, which is huge. It would leave the restaurant with nothing approaching atmosphere.”
In the capital city of Lithuania, Vilnius, public authorities have attempted to solve this by transforming outdoor public spaces into a huge open air cafe.
Many of the best venues in the Baltic city are hidden away down the narrow streets of Vilnius old town, Senamiestis, a Unesco-listed world heritage site.
And so eighteen large spaces have been given over to hospitality owners to use – including the beautiful Cathedral Square.
“Plazas, squares, and streets – nearby cafés will be able to set up outdoor tables free of charge this season and thus conduct their activities during quarantine. Just open up, work, retain jobs and keep Vilnius alive,” the city’s Mayor, Remigijus Šimašius, explained.
“Of course, the top priority remains safety for all,” he added.
“Vilnius’ offer to help our cafés and restaurants came just in time,” says Evada Šiškauskienė, Head of the Lithuanian Association of Hotels and Restaurants. “This additional space will help them accommodate more visitors and bring life back to the city streets.”
In a further boost to the hospitality sector the City of Vilnius has also thanked its healthcare workers by providing €400,000 of gift vouchers, which can be redeemed at restaurants across the city.
This kind of creative approach is exactly what we need here.