When it comes to grabbing a coffee or heading out for a bite, summer is the time we take it outdoors, but this season, following the Coronavirus Pandemic and the social distancing measures put in place because of it, eating al fresco may be more of a necessity than a hot day luxury.
Of course, that’s all well and good for establishments that already have outdoor eating arrangements in place, but what about those eateries that don’t?
Current guidelines from the NI Executive state that hotels, bars and pubs will be allowed to open from July 3rd, with restrictions in place. Those with outdoor trading may be able to operate with more freedom. Pubs and bars that do not serve food, for example, may be allowed to trade outdoors.
Meanwhile, in the UK a pilot scheme to help restaurants re-imagine outdoor eating has been launched. The Liverpool-based scheme is designed to provide support to help cafes and restaurants trade outside.
Road closures, pop up parks and free trading permits are being introduced to help the hospitality sector recover from lockdown.
Bold Street in the city is one such example. It will be closed to traffic across the summer and be the pilot for a new scheme of street furniture and ‘parklets’. The new seating and park areas will take over existing parking bays to transform the look of the street and, if successful, could be rolled out to other streets across the city.
These areas would provide a site for cafes and restaurants with no outdoor seating of their own to trade outdoors.
Here in Northern Ireland, similar schemes have not been introduced, but there have been calls for the NI Executive to clarify guidelines on outdoor trading.
Colin Neill, Chief Executive, Hospitality Ulster said:
“The industry is ready to get back to business in a safe and responsible way. Livelihoods and jobs are at stake. Many are keen to seize the initiative and bring a creative approach in their fight for survival. With support from government and innovative thinking from businesses and local authorities, many could reopen and at least be sustainable until restrictions are reduced.
“The drive to adapt and ‘take it outside’ means that the concerns around social distancing are largely taken care of as people can spread out, and all and every health and safety precaution can be implemented. We have so many vast unused open spaces at the minute as people largely remain at home, so we need our elected representatives and the Executive to get its act together and save the summer – one of the busiest trading periods of the year.”
Mr Neill added that many in the hospitality sector were looking to outdoor spaces they could utilise to enable them to return to business.
“Many pubs and restaurant owners are looking at spaces they have at their disposal and close by their premises, creating parklets or bespoke outdoor seating areas such as those see in other European cities. We are so far behind in this despite the wealth the industry generates for the economy.”
“We still have had nothing out of the Executive, we are still largely in the dark, yet Ministers always talk about hospitality and tourism being one of the most important sectors here,” says Mr Neill. “We welcome the opening of retail stores, but the hospitality sector also plays a vital role in both our social and community lives, addressing loneliness and providing a space for communities to meet, especially at these difficult times.”
While the hospitality sector awaits further clarification on outdoor trading, there are further calls to reduce the two-metre social distancing rule to one-metre, which would allow many more businesses to open their doors.
In his latest round of easing lockdown restrictions, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has advised a ‘one-metre plus’ approach to social distancing.
Hopes are high for a similar rule in Northern Ireland, as Arlene Foster looks to Boris Johnson for clarification.
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