Belgium's hospitality industry draws up a plan for reopening restaurants and bars safely

Belgium's hospitality industry draws up a plan for reopening restaurants and bars safely

The horeca sector (hotel-restaurant-cafe) has still no information on when it might reopen to serve customers, but the representative organisation for Flanders has drawn up a plan for the occasion.

The main problem for the sector – and the reason why closing restaurants and bars was the first move of the government back in March – is proximity.

Restaurants typically fit in as many tables as they can while allowing for the passage of servers and the comfort of diners.

Cafes and bars, meanwhile, group customers around tables or have them lined up three-deep at the bar.

If customers are able to maintain a distance of 1.5m from each other at all, the business is not doing well. But that is the reality the industry is waking up to as it awaits the green light for opening up.

The general view appears to be that June 8 will be the date set by the national security council when next it meets on June 3. The sector will be allowed to open, but the conditions will be strict.

Social distancing is the key. Luckily the fine weather is upon us and the summer is approaching, so cafe terraces and restaurant gardens will be used to the full.

In some cities like Bruges and Ghent, as well as some Brussels communes, local authorities have made plans to close some streets to traffic, or remove some on-street parking spaces to allow bars to extend their terraces.

The option is not there for all, however. Especially busy city areas, there is simply no place for a terrace to expand to – if there even was one in the first place.

Inside, the sector is preparing for social distancing to be enforced, so no more seating at the bar. Patrons inside must remain seated in place instead of circulating. And numbers will be limited in a similar way to shops.

According to one report by Het Laatste Nieuws, if the expected rules were to be applied to what is popularly known as the longest bar in the world – the line of cafes on the Oude Markt in Leuven – the number of customers would drop from 4,000 normally to only 2,000.

The major fear of the industry is that when the future situation is made clear, many businesses will do the calculation and simply decide not to reopen.

The industry itself is busy preparing its contingency plan, which is expected to be ready by the end of the week, Horeca Vlaanderen CEO Matthias de Caluwe said. The position paper is being drawn up in conjunction with employers’ organisations, and with medical experts.

Alan Hope

The Brussels Times

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