I hear it’s lovely this time of year - why are we talking about it?
It looks set to be even more lovely soon: the Lithuanian capital is to be turned into an enormous open-air cafe. The major is set to temporarily hand over public space to restaurants and bars to help them comply with physical distancing rules. Without this initiative the requirement for alfresco dining-only and two metre gaps between tables would be unworkable in Vilnius’s Unesco-listed old town, which has narrow, winding streets. Around 20 of the city’s public spaces are down to be made available to hospitality businesses and more are expected to be added as the summer progresses.
What a fantastic idea. Any chance of something similar happening over here soon?
Don’t hold your breath. The Baltic country hasn’t been nearly as badly hit as the UK by the pandemic. Shops and hairdressers and restaurants and bars that can seat people outdoors are all starting to re-open. We’re sadly some way off that, although as warmer weather approaches people are starting to talk about how alfresco eating and drinking might play its part in helping restaurants, bars and pubs to re-open.
Government adviser Robert Dingwall believes pubs should be allowed to open beer gardens sooner rather than latter. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme last week, the sociologist said that if landlords were prepared to ensure outdoor spaces were not overcrowded he saw no problem with them re-opening. But it's unlikely the Government will heed his advice: it's pretty clear pubs aren't going to be allowed to re-open for business anytime soon.
But could outdoor eating and drinking be part of the solution for the UK?
While it’s accepted that the Coronavirus spreads far less readily outdoors than inside, it’s unclear whether alfresco dining and drinking will be part of the Government’s strategy for re-opening hospitality businesses as it is Lithuania, and indeed in a number of other European countries. It’s been suggested that bar terraces in Spain could reopen from 4 May at 30% capacity and with a number of other distancing rules in place. And when restaurants and bars re-open in Greece - which won’t be until June at the earliest - it will be outdoor service only alongside a reduction in covers to allow for physical distancing.
Any guesses on when we could all be finally allowed back into pubs for a pint?
The boss of pub giant JD Wetherspoon is very much in the glass half full camp, with plans to re-open his pubs "in or around June", albeit with physical distancing measures in place. Before we get too excited it must be noted that this optimism comes with a disclaimer that it's "just an estimate and may prove to be entirely incorrect". Cheers, Tim.