An outdoor summer sounds great, says Paul Cadden, owner of the Saba restaurants in Baggot Street and Clarendon Street. “It sounds very romantic.”
But you have to remember this is Ireland, he said on the phone on Tuesday.
You can put up a shelter but the rain is as likely to come in sideways as it is to fall straight down from the sky. “You are at the mercy of the gods,” says Cadden.
Restaurant owners don’t yet know what restrictions to expect once they’re allowed to reopen, he says.
If it’s outdoor dining only this summer as many expect, Cadden will adapt his business, he says. “We’ll have to embrace it.”
Last summer, Cadden converted a disused car park at the back of his Baggot Street restaurant into a “secret garden” that seated 40 people, he says.
Dublin City Council allowed that and were “very helpful”, he says.
With the weather beginning to change, restaurant owners in the city are wondering whether outdoor dining will be allowed this summer if restrictions begin to ease – and what the council may do to help make it possible.
Dublin City Council has given out 76 extra permits for outdoor furniture like chairs and tables, since the start of the pandemic, says a spokesperson. That was a 40 percent increase as there were around 190 such permits before.
The council is talking to businesses on several streets across the city about changes that could be brought in to support them when the time comes, said a spokesperson.
But it could do more to engage in a structured way, says Adrian Cummins, the CEO of the Restaurants Association of Ireland. Like Cork City Council, which has been “exceptional”, he said.
Plans in Train
As soon as restrictions ease, Dublin City Council will pedestrianise parts of South William Street, Drury Street, Dame Court and South Anne Street, said a council spokesperson.
The trial last November pedestrianising these streets around Grafton Street was very successful, said the spokesperson.
The changes “will again support social distancing, outdoor dining and should also serve as an attraction for bringing people back into the city centre”, they said.
The council is considering proposals from restaurant and cafe owners in other parts of the city around changes to roads for more outdoor seating, they said.
It’s leading other proposals itself. “Dublin City Council delivered a coordinated plan for the Smithfield area to facilitate outdoor dining in the summer of 2020,” says the council spokesperson.
The council is currently looking at how to also do projects for Capel Street, South Anne Street, Duke Street and Newmarket Square, they said.
Dublin City Council is also looking at the feasibility of “re-allocating the space” at Stephen Street and Montague Street to create more space for outdoor dining and social distancing there, says the council spokesperson.
The council has waived fees for street furniture licences and temporary permits and will continue to do so, says a spokesperson.
“Dublin City Council is fully committed to assisting hospitality businesses access the public domain to assist them in staying sustainable and providing safe spaces for their customers,” says the spokesperson.
On Merrion Row, just off Stephen’s Green, several restaurants have asked the council to pedestrianise the street to make way for outdoor dining, says Fine Gael Councillor Danny Byrne.
At a meeting of the South East Area Committee on 8 March, Byrne tabled a motion backing the businesses.
“It is not possible to close Merrion Row to traffic as it’s a significant route, particularly for buses,” said Mary Taylor, director of services for the south of the city, at the meeting.
The council will engage with the businesses on Merrion Row, she said. “What we are looking at is doing footpath extensions to portions of either side.”
“We really should look at how we can make this happen,” said Byrne after the meeting.
“These are the ratepayers that pay to keep the council operating,” says Byrne, employing hundreds of people. The council should at least trial changes this summer, he says.
In general, businesses on a street can come together and approach the council if they want more outdoor seating, said Taylor at the meeting.
Coming in groups is better than alone, she said. “Because anything you do for one business impacts on another.”
There are issues to contend with too, she said, like objections from residents or challenges with outdoor heating.
Cadden says that the last time regulations let him open for outdoor dining at Saba, he could only safely fit 15 people into his usually 40-seater garden.
Such small numbers make it hard to manage costs and people tend to cancel when the weather is bad, he says.
After months of being closed, many restaurants in Dublin “are hanging on with their finger tips”, says Cadden.
At this stage, some can’t afford to rejig their businesses for outdoor dining even if they get the space, he says.
Cummins, of the Restaurants Association, says he thinks the way that Dublin City Council is going about changes is not well-organised.
“There is no common criteria across the local authorities,” he says. Each county operates like a “fiefdom”, he says.
Dublin City Council is one of the strictest councils and doesn’t allow gas heaters outside, – although other cities allow it, he says.
He wants Dublin City Council to sit down with his organisation and a map of the city and plan which streets can be pedestrianised and traffic rejigged to make space for outdoor dining, he says.
As Cork City Council did to support outdoor dining last summer, he said. “It’s a proper collaboration with the businesses.”
This approach benefits the council too, says Cummins. Once cafes and restaurants are back up and running, they’ll be back paying rates, which fund everything else in the city, he says.
A spokesperson for Cork City Council says staff went street to street to talk to traders and residents at the start of their initiative.
Its traffic division closed streets “to make a greater area of space available for licensing for street furniture”, they said.
The council then encouraged groups of traders to put in formal proposals, which were assessed by a street inspector.
The street inspector helped the businesses by drawing up maps and checking that wheelchair users and others could still get around the city, says the spokesperson for Cork City Council.
“The streets pedestrianised were not main traffic routes,” they said.
Meanwhile, the local enterprise office gave grants to businesses to buy coverings, windbreakers and outdoor heaters, they said.
The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, they said, so on 1 January, Cork City Council approved plans to permanently pedestrianise the 17 streets.