It's lunchtime in Paris and the restaurants and bars along the canal banks in the 19th arrondissement in the northeastern part of the city are filling up with the usual clients.
The guests sitting on the terraces were not crammed in as they often are in Paris, but comfortably spread out around the terraces, which had been extended by the owners after a special permission granted by the mayor's office.
Paris now and Paris just months ago were two radically different cities.
Under lockdown, the streets had virtually emptied as its inhabitants were strictly confined to their homes. Now, parts of the capital have turned into what looks like an open-air restaurant. Parking spots and spare space on squares and pavements are now home to rows of chairs and tables.
Some streets have even been closed off to cars to let restaurants use the whole space for their tables.
The big question is whether the current order will be made permanent? As it stands, restaurants may keep their expanded areas until September 30th. After that, it's up to the politicians.
Could it work all year round? Or maybe restaurants could be allowed to extend their terraces each summer?
'Let it stay'
When we asked our readers what they thought about allowing the extended terraces to stay the response was clear.
On Twitter an overwhelming majority (82.5 percent) said they were in favour of letting cafes spread out on a permanent basis.
Paris has allowed cafe and restaurant terraces to spill out on to roads, pavements and squares since they reopened. Do you think these expanded terraces (currently allowed until end of September) should become a permanent feature of the city? Tell us why
— The Local France (@TheLocalFrance) July 6, 2020
On The Local's Facebook page the majority was slightly less but still clear.
'I'm afraid about the future'
Needless to say restaurant and cafe owners in Paris want the measure extended.
Being able to expand their spaces brought economic relief as they were able to take in more clients while respecting the new health rules.
Getting the permission to expand their terraces has been straightforward.
All the owners had to do is file an online declaration, and then print, sign and display the guidelines issued by Paris City Hall on their window.
Those currently benefiting from the measure fear for the economic impact of reducing their spaces back to normal size, when temporary permission ends.
“We have more clients, so we make more money. But it’s not enough,” said Redouane, the owner of Le Bar Ourcq by the canal.
Extending their terraces was “absolutely necessary” to help restaurants recover after closing down for over two months, he said.
“We’re completely at loss as to how to recover from this drop in revenue,” the owner said.
His worries were echoed by Vittorio, the Italian owner of the restaurant Il Padrino in the 18th arrondissement, further north.
“I’m afraid about the future,” he said.
“For the moment I’m covering the costs and we’ve had some financial help, but we don’t know what awaits us, and that’s the most difficult,” he said.
Paris' iconic Cafe de Flore has gotten an extra row of outdoor tables since it reopened in June. Photo: AFP
'We can find a seat'
Parisians out for lunch on the banks of the canal said it was a great relief to finally, after two months of confinement, safely enjoy a café or glass of rosé outside.
Charlotte, 30, was thrilled to be able to enjoy her plate of pasta on a one of the extended terraces.
“It increases our chances to find a seat on a terrace and to make the most of being outside,” she told The Local.
“I go to restaurants twice as often now compared to what I did before,” she said.
On Twitter Luke Shrago said: “It was always awful being crammed in on top of each other, and we’ve now seen that the system can actually work. Let it stay.”
And Kristen Davis said: “In the short term it maximises the amount of possible revenue these hard hit businesses can generate in the summer months. In the longer term I think it prioritises outdoor space for people, commerce, culture and pleasure rather than parking.”
Great idea. Gotta stay. Paris cafes and restaurantsshould be allowed to keep expanded terraces beyond September… Would be great if they could expand their toilets too… https://t.co/R52biyWCAR pic.twitter.com/UAQBqG64oe
— Ben McPartland (@McPBen) July 6, 2020
But not everyone thinks the measure should stay in place.
Nicolas, 27, who was enjoying a burger at Le Corso on the Quai de Seine said he liked how it changed the city’s overall atmosphere, but that he thought it should remain a temporary thing.
“I don’t think it’s necessary during winter,” he said, adding:
“It can be problematic for the neighborhood and it would mean using heaters for the terraces, and I am against that.”
Others say extended terraces have got to go because a number of cafés, bars and restaurants overstep some of the guidelines they are supposed to follow – for example closing the extended part of the terrace at 10pm to keep the neighborhood quiet.
On Twitter David Keohane, said some restaurants “are taking the piss a bit” and wanted to see more enforcement.
“There has to be some enforcement of the new space being used, and I have seen precisely none,” he said.
I have every sympathy for bars and cafes trying to make up for months of no revenue. And I want them to survive! But they are taking the piss a bit. Basically there has to be some enforcement of the new space being used, and I have seen precisely none.
— David Keohane (@DavidKeo) July 6, 2020
But Paris City Hall said they were doing regular drop-in security checks to ensure that those benefiting from the extended space complied with the rules.
Redouane, the owner of the bar by the canal, said he had been subject to several such checks.
“Security agents from the City of Paris come several times a week to make sure the guidelines are respected,” he said, adding that he knew about other owners who had been fined because clients didn't want to move.
“As a bar, it’s easier for us, we tell our clients beforehand and they are really understanding,” he said.
But what about the ones that haven't been able to spread out like the others?
Vittorio's Italian restaurant in the 18th is situated on a street where cars are driving by constantly and has only been allowed a small extension onto the narrow pavement outside his restaurant – which normally does not have tables outside.
“It’s a bit unfair, but it’s the sidewalk’s fault, we can’t change that,” Vittorio joked.
Still, he said, even the small extension has helped a lot.
“Every Monday and Sunday, the butcher next to me closes so I use the space in front of his shop, and he’s totally fine with that,” he said.
But it will come down to Paris' newly re-elected mayor Anne Hidalgo to decide whether the bars can continue to spill onto pavements and parking spots.
In a recent interview for RTL radio Hidalgo said she “was in favour of making this new freedom long lasting,” but when contacted by The Local, the City of Paris declined to make any concrete promises.
“It is way too early to say if this scheme will be made permanent”, a spokesman for Paris City Hall told The Local.