One Giant Outdoor Café

After every lockdown, it is the safety of re-opening that matters. Allowing safe functioning of restaurants might require a fresh perspective – like giving away some public spaces for dining in safer distances.
Vilnius has experienced a gastronomic boom in recent years, becoming a trending travel destination for foodies. However, since the start of the pandemic, the industry was among those hit the hardest. Helping this industry in difficult times was among the city’s priorities amid relaxed lockdown rules.

Eating out safely during the pandemic requires much larger distances between the tables. This puts pressure on restaurants, for whom being able to serve only every second table means giant financial losses.

The city of Vilnius offered a solution – turning itself into a vast outdoor café by giving away many city’s public spaces, so more people could enjoy dining in safer distances. The municipality authorized restaurants to set up tables at least two meters apart from each other in otherwise busy plazas, squares and other public spaces free of charge.

This was an unprecedented idea at the time and it quickly proved to be successful. Outdoor dining in the city’s public places was available all through the summer and well into autumn under the permittable weather conditions.

"Everyone was really tired of quarantine restrictions, the city streets were dead and businesses wanted to operate as soon as possible. So when we came up with the idea to give more freedom to cafés, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Other countries also found this initiative helpful and innovative as many adapted it to their own circumstances. Such ideas are like a breath of fresh air – they are necessary for a healthy, creative and happy society." Karolis Žukauskas, Advisor to the Mayor.

In the end, the gastronomic culture of the city got back on track. Compared to last year, the number of outdoor cafés almost doubled for a few months more than 450 local businesses in over 18 spots, including four streets closed to car traffic in the Old Town, invited people not only to go out for a nice dinner, but also socialize and support the city’s gastronomy industry.

Vilnius quickly became an international role model for this initiative. City officials from all around the world are still regularly contacting Vilnius city municipality for details in order to implement similar idea in their own cities.

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