Lithuania’s capital Vilnius will offer its public spaces free of charge for outdoor catering establishments. Owners are already jumping at the opportunity.
A new model for going out
Vilnius will turn its many streets and open spaces into bars, restaurants, and cafes. This is meant to allow the catering industry a moment of respite and help the industry relaunch after the lockdown.
The idea is to offer a space where businesses can ensure a sufficient distance (2 meters / 6 feet) between patrons. The measure was hailed by local businesses and from the very first day, the municipality has received 151 applications from restaurants, cafes, and bars.
“Plazas, squares, streets – nearby cafes will be allowed to set up outdoor tables free of charge this season and thus conduct their activities during quarantine,” said Remigijus Šimašius, mayor of Vilnius. Public safety remained the city’s top priority, the mayor said, but the measure should help cafes to “open up, work, retain jobs and keep Vilnius alive”.
As Lithuania and several other countries are slowly trialing ways to relax the lockdown, owners were left with few ways to earn money. The first is carryout (takeaway), and it’s certainly a crucial aspect for many businesses. But there’s only so much you can do with takeaway alone, and opening “conventional” restaurants seems unrealistic since most places rely on crowding as many tables as possible inside — and this is exactly what you don’t want, given the state of affairs regarding COVID-19.
Cafes and some bars in Lithuania are already starting to open up after a fairly long lockdown, but with social distancing measures in place. For many businesses, however, this is not realistic, since they operate on razor-thin margins and are therefore dependent on a large influx of customers. Outdoor tables could prove to be an unexpected ally in this struggle.
“It came just in time,” said Evalda Šiškauskienė of the Lithuanian Association of Hotels and Restaurants, adding that the measure would help members “accommodate more visitors and bring life back to the city streets, but without violating security requirements”.
In addition to opening up public spaces (including historic areas) for businesses to operate, Vilnius will also give €400,000 ($430,000) in restaurant vouchers to medical workers as lockdown lifts.