The owner of a city centre cafe has appealed for some leeway to be allowed place tables and chairs on the “most underused quayside amenity in Europe” while respecting social distancing guidelines.
Paul Walsh, who runs the 3 Little Piggies cafe on Union Quay in Cork City, overlooking the southern channel of the River Lee, issued the plea yesterday after he was directed by gardaí to remove seven tables and a number of chairs from the pavement outside his premises.
Gardaí confirmed that Mr Walsh was directed to remove the tables on Thursday under the health regulations which were introduced to control the spread of Covid-19 and which currently limit cafes and restaurants to a takeaway service only.
The government’s four-phase roadmap to the easing of restrictions will allow cafes and restaurants which provide on-premises food and beverages reopen on June 29, while complying with social distancing and strict cleaning protocols.
Mr Walsh said he has kept his cafe open for takeaways only throughout the pandemic and has served many essential service providers working in the city, including those in the courts service, fire service, gardaí who are all based nearby. He also helps several groups supporting the homeless.
He is licensed to have four tables outside but said he placed seven tables outside in recent days, all three metres apart. He said they were used by families and by groups of four.
He said he couldn’t fault the individual gardaí who dealt with him Thursday but said he felt “bitterly disappointed”.
“It felt like a punch in the stomach as we try to build up some business, get some form of a cushion over the summer as we face into what’s going to be a long winter,” he said.
“There was more social distancing being observed at our outdoor seating than in many of the country’s beaches and parks in recent days.
I brought the tables in and sought legal advice. I also emailed the HSE to get confirmation on the guidelines and they said they were guidelines only. So I decided to put them back out again yesterday.
He said Cork city has some of the most underutilized quayside in Europe and that he hopes to be licensed by City Hall soon to place tables and chairs opposite his cafe, overlooking the river.
“I would hope that we would be able to use some of the parking spaces for seating too. Many people have commented about how nice it is to have a coffee by the river and it would be a major source of revenue for City Hall,” he said.
“We lost about 70% of our business when the restrictions were introduced and I had to let two staff go. But they’re back now and we’re doing about 65% of normal business.
“Our morning trade from workers and our evening trade from the School of Music is gone. We have to rely on business between 10.30am and 4pm to make the money to pay the bills.
Businesses have a window between now and October to make their businesses viable because outside seating will become obsolete from October on.