‘Fully booked for a month’ – France’s bars and cafés prepare to reopen after six months of closure

'Fully booked for a month' - France's bars and cafés prepare to reopen after six months of closure
Terraces will be able to reopen at a 50 percent capacity with a maximum of six people per table maximum (everyone must be seated). Photo by BERTRAND GUAY / AFP
France's bars, restaurants and cafés will finally be allowed to reopen on Wednesday after six months of closure. But with reduced capacity and a bad weather forecast, it's not be the reopening many were hoping for.

Wednesday, May 19th marks phase two of France’s reopening plan, which allows bars, restaurants and cafés to open up their outdoor areas only.

IN DETAIL France’s calendar for reopening 

All booked up

At Pipalottes, a restaurant in the 9th arrondissement, everyone is busy cleaning and getting the place ready for the big day. “We’re trying to make the most of the space on the terrace to be able to get everyone in, but we’re having to cancel some reservations,” said Maximilien, the owner whose terrace will accommodate 48 people. “We’re trying our best to keep everyone happy.”

On Wednesday, large terraces can reopen at a 50 percent capacity with a maximum of six people per table (everyone must be seated), and the curfew will be shifted from 7pm to 9pm. Indoor spaces will reopen on June 9th, when the curfew will be shifted to 10pm.

A ten minute walk away is Sausalito, a wine bar and restaurant that is also fully booked for Wednesday and Thursday night. “We’ve been booked up for the 19th for about a month,” said the owner, Antoine.

He is looking forward to reopening but like many business owners, he hopes this will be the final reopening. “I know that in the UK they are getting worried about the Indian variant, so we need to be careful and play by the rules. We’re crossing our fingers that we will be able to stay open all summer.”

“Parisians love having a drink on a terrasse. Six months without terraces is far too long. It’s just a pity that the weather isn’t great,” added Antoine.

Bad weather forecast

Others aren’t so optimistic, with storms and heavy rain forecast for much of the country.

“I think we’ll have our usual customers who will at least pop in for a drink,” says Alex, the owner of Source Infinie, a restaurant in the 10th arrondissement, which currently has 30 tables facing the street. “But we definitely won’t have the same amount of people we would have if we had good weather.” 

READ ALSO: Storms, rain and strong winds forecast for week France’s café terraces reopen

It’s bad news for François, the owner of Le Bistrot de Madeleine in the 9th arrondissement, who can expand capacity from 14 to 40 if the weather is good enough.

“It’s a real problem, because if it rains I can only seat people in this area,” he says gesturing at the space covered by a blue awning.

“We’ll open on the 19th, it’s important and we are looking forward to seeing our customers again. But we might have to close on some days if the weather is bad, and it’s not worth it for us if we can only serve 12 or 14 people,” he said.

“We are very dependent on the weather. But we are also very happy to be able to reopen, so we’ll have to take it one day at a time,” he said.

Social distancing and strict rules on capacity 

The capital’s bars and restaurants were allowed to stretch their outdoor terraces onto the pavement or the street last summer to allow more outdoor socialising, and these changes have been extended until at least June 2021 – after which they will have to be paid for.

Sausalito is one of the many businesses to have set up a terrance made from wooden pallets in what would usually be taken up by parked cars. “At some point we will have to pay for it, but we don’t know when yet.” said the owner, Antoine. 

Asia, the owner of Les Jolies Mômes in the 9th, has benefited from this measure, which means she can spread out her tables for 50 customers and maintain social distancing more easily. “We are lucky enough to be on a small pedestrian square, and the increased terrace space means we can follow the health restrictions.”

Large terraces will only be allowed to fill up half their space on Wednesday, but last week government officials announced that establishments with small terraces will not be subject to this rule – as long as social distancing measures are followed.

“We will make sure to keep around 1m between tables, but we haven’t been given any precise indications,” said François.

READ ALSO: Paris to keep its expanded outdoor café terraces until summer 2021

Serving food outside

The risk of bad weather, reduced number of tables and the curfew at 9pm makes it very difficult for some restaurants to serve food.

Source Infinie has decided to wait until June 9th, when aside customers being able to sit indoors, the curfew will be shifted to 10pm. “We are a restaurant, but since we are not able to welcome customers inside, and only have 50 percent of the space on our terraces, we’ve decided we’ll only be serving drinks for the time being,” says Alex, the restaurant’s director. 

“It’s far too expensive for the number of customers are allowed to seat, especially with the weather we have at the moment,” he said. “We’ll try to do our best, but I think we’ll have to be patient and unfortunately, even if people are looking forward to eating out again, we won’t be going back to normal straight away.”


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