BRINGING A CONTINENTAL PAVEMENT CAFÉ CULTURE TO NORFOLK
I have been on this earth more than half a century, and before this Easter, I’m not sure I can remember a bank holiday weekend when we enjoyed wall-to-wall sunshine from the moment we all downed tools to the point of traipsing back to work.
There are many serious implications to climate change, and it’s not something we should joke about. But if global warming is a massive cloud looming over our future, there is at least one silver lining: pretty much all experts agree that Britain is likely to be experiencing drier, hotter summers. And that, at least, should be good news for our towns and cities – as long as planners embrace the change.
One of the nicest things about being on holiday in hotter climes is the ability to eat outside. Pretty much every café and restaurant has tables and chairs on the pavement. There is something irresistible about being able to take your meal in the open air, and not just in a country like ours, where until now a prolonged period of sunshine has been rarer than a home win at Portman Road.
There is something about living life outside which really boosts the vibrancy of our urban spaces. Those responsible for such things in London have certainly got the message; the al fresco craze is well established in the capital, even though in many places the pavements are cramped and the air thick with pollution.
The debate about making Norwich car-free – or at least creating more spaces which are off-limits to motor vehicles – is well-advanced. The arguments in favour centre around health and sustainability, but I think an important factor in limiting where cars can drive is that it creates exactly the kind of spaces and environment in which our city’s restaurants and cafes can set up outside tables and bring a bit of that civilised continental café culture to Norfolk.
We are already starting to see more establishments apply for permission for outside tables, and I hope that our planners will look favourably on such submissions. If we want to reclaim our streets, we have to have a purpose for doing so other than a dislike of the motor car – and freeing them up to become places in which we actually live and take pleasure is surely as noble a purpose as any.
Those eateries seeking to create opportunities for al fresco meals have to play their part as well. Those continental terraces work so well because the culture has evolved over a long period of time to make them work. There are extra rules for running outside eating spaces, which will need to be learned quickly here if they are to succeed.
Your pavement eating area is on view to everyone, so you must keep it spick and span at all times. That means clearing tables of dirty dishes quickly (not just for aesthetic reasons, but to avoid swarms of insects and wasps), and it means designing spaces which are attractive and which don’t impinge on others using the pavement. And you must also be considerate to neighbours, both through restricting noisy behaviour outside, and observing considerate hours in residential areas.
If restaurateurs and café owners observe these few rules, there is absolutely no reason why Norwich – and other towns in Norfolk – shouldn’t take advantage of our changing climate and introduce more al fresco eating. Bringing a renewed vibrancy to our streets, reclaiming them from polluting cars, and boosting our hard-pressed hospitality industry: why would we not want to do that?
One final thought: if you find yourself on holiday in Italy this year and fancy taking your meal in the open air, don’t ask if you can go al fresco. Although the term originates from Italian, there it has an altogether different meaning: being al fresco means spending time in jail – much like our own expression ‘in the cooler’. And you certainly won’t find a pleasant eating experience there.
This article was first published in the Norwich Evening News and the Eastern Daily Press.