Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, has announced its intentions to turn the city into one open-seating outdoor café. This is an attempt by the local government to help its cafés and restaurants which have been allowed to reopen as part of the country‘s gradual exit from coronavirus lockdown.
According to Lithuania’s Health Ministry, cafés and restaurants that choose to recommence operations must follow strict physical distancing rules and safety measures. Seating is only allowed outdoors, and clients seated at different tables must be at least two metres apart.
Strict safety requirements, combined with the narrow streets of Vilnius’ Old Town – which can often only host a couple of tables per establishment – have made restaurant, café, and bar owners pessimistic about the prospects of reopening.
However, Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius responded to these doubts directly with a support package from the city.
“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. Just open up, work, retain jobs. and keep Vilnius alive,“ Mayor Šimašius said on 24 April, the day after the government announced the easing of quarantine restrictions.
“Of course, the top priority remains safety for all.”
Vilnius’ public spaces – which have rarely been used for outdoor eating, such as the city‘s iconic Cathedral Square – are now open for this activity to support the city’s restaurants going through difficult times. Currently, 18 public spaces have been put on offer, with the possibility to add more in the near future.
The local government say the announcement was met with enthusiasm, both from café owners and citizens of Vilnius, who are longing to return to their favourite cafés after weeks of lockdown.
“Vilnius’ offer to help our cafés and restaurants came just in time,” says Evada Šiškauskienė, Head of the Lithuanian Association of Hotels and Restaurants.
“This additional space will help them accommodate more visitors and bring life back to the city streets without violating security requirements.”
More than 162 cafés, bars, and restaurants have applied to inhabit the city’s public spaces with outdoor seating.
Tourism agency Go Vilnius says the city has experienced a gastronomic boom in recent years. Culinary experiences like food halls and markets, street food stalls and food trucks, craft beer bars and high-end restaurants have become part of Vilnius’ identity for locals and visitors alike. Therefore, helping this industry in difficult times is among the city’s priorities amid relaxed lockdown rules.
Image credit: Saulius Žiūra