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This city is turning into a 'giant open-air cafe' to help restaurants and bars recover from Covid-19

Vilnius has been getting creative with measures to reboot restaurants and cafés, and the Restaurants' Association of Ireland would like to follow suit


Outdoor seating in Vilnius. Credit: Go Vilnius

Outdoor seating in Vilnius. Credit: Go Vilnius

Outdoor seating in Vilnius. Credit: Go Vilnius

Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, says it is turning into "one giant open-air café" by giving restaurants and bars free use of its squares and parks.

The scheme aims to help jump-start the city’s hospitality industry.

“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," Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius has said.

"Just open up, work, retain jobs and keep Vilnius alive."

The Restaurants' Association of Ireland (RAI) has called for a similar waiver of licenses for outdoor tables and chairs for one year, "to enable businesses to reopen and adapt to social distancing".

"I would be all for pedestrianising certain parts of the city now where you have very low throughput of cars," says its CEO, Adrian Cummins.

"Local authorities need to work with us in a proactive way to open up streets across the cities, towns and villages as quickly as possible, so people can use outdoor space during the summer."

The RAI has also called for a 0pc VAT rate, reboot grants and a waiver of local authority rates among other supports, to help restaurants remain viable under any new Covid-19 health and safety regimes.





Under Ireland's roadmap for reopening, restaurants and cafés could restart trading from June 29 "where they can comply with social distancing measures and strict cleaning in operations".

Hotels, hostels, caravan and holiday parks could follow suit from July 20 "on a limited occupancy basis" - providing Covid-19 public health criteria are met in the meantime, of course.

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Lithuania recently announced a phased exit from quarantine that has allowed cafés, restaurants, hairdressers, museums and most shops to reopen, while requiring ongoing social distancing and safety precautions.

As part of its regulations, cafés and restaurants can only have outdoor seating, and clients at different tables must be at least two metres apart. Customers may only gather in groups of two (or as families), should wear masks "when not eating or drinking" and should use contactless payments, the city says.

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In Vilnius, more than 160 bars, cafés and restaurants have already applied for free permits to set up outdoor tables, according to Go Vilnius, the city's official development and tourism agency.

The initiatives come as governments and hospitality businesses all over the world debate how best to reopen societies and help devastated shops, restaurants and cafés to operate a "new normal" under strict hygiene protocols.

In Portugal, for example, a ' Clean & Safe' stamp of approval has been applied for by over 2,300 businesses, while Singapore has introduced an ' SG Clean' quality mark for tourism and lifestyle sectors.

Vilnius has also permitted food trucks to operate more freely within the city, and opened a drive-in movie theatre on the tarmac of its international airport - where moviegoers can park "in the shadow of grounded planes".

The first film, screened last week, was Oscar-winner 'Parasite'.

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