Parisian Living

Paris Restaurants Are Taking It to the Streets

by Yvonne Hazelton

I can’t speak for everyone in Paris, but all I really want to do now that the quarantine has lifted and summer’s here, is go outside. Eat outside, drink outside, walk outside. Here’s a snippet of how Paris is shaping up this season.

We Parisians were inside for two months, and our outdoor activity was severely limited by distance and time of day. It was a nation-wide time out, enforced by the French police and grandmas. Police were issuing fines, and the grandmas were shaming the mask-less and the non-distancers. Nobody exhibits scorn like an old French lady, so it was quite effective.

Being outside didn’t feel great anyway, in spite of the glorious spring weather. The streets were eerily empty, nothing was open besides grocery stores and pharmacies, and social distancing is demoralizing, as everybody in the world now knows.

Left: Tables and chairs sit outside a restaurant in Paris to accommodate the new COVID-safe ways of eating, Right: "Fromages & Charcuterie" are painted on the window on the front of a restaurant
Top: caterina-beleffiunsplash Above: Patrick Colpron / Mat Reding,

We de-confined gradually starting in mid-May, the government striking items off the Forbidden List every week or so. If the Covid-19 numbers were good, we got to do more things, but if the numbers were bad, we lost privileges. Some of us distanced better than others, but in general, the French trusted the government’s unified, prudent instructions.

The week that the government said restaurants could open for outdoor service, we all rejoiced. There’s nothing like terrace dining in Paris, sipping your tiny drink and people-watching, meeting friends, eating something simple and delicious.

Because outdoor tables still needed to be one meter apart, the city of Paris allowed unorthodox appropriation of exterior space adjoining restaurants and cafés, and they got creative. Tables appeared in the parking lanes, shielded from the street by planter boxes or wooden pallets lashed together. After shops closed up for the day, tiny tables and chairs appeared in front of their shuttered doors, twining down the sidewalk from nearby eateries. Even shops that hadn’t traditionally served food put tables out front—my fish monger has started serving oyster platters on ice with wine, and the wine shop now offers a cheese and wine apéro every afternoon. Some traiteurs, shops with pre-made food that usually only offer take-away service, plunked down tables and chairs on the sidewalks so we could eat our take-away food right there. 

Left: A waiter, wearing a mask, serves people sitting distanced at outdoor seating on a Parisian terrace, Right: People socially distance while sitting on spaced out outdoor seating on a terrace in Paris.
Alexandra Rozhkova / Elie Yobeid

It was charming. We all felt relief at being outside, and the unorthodox seating heightened our sense of triumph, the camaraderie of survivors. We still keep our distance so as not to die or kill anybody else (though some are still doing this better than others). There are hand sanitizer stations around the perimeter of the seating areas, and tables are a bit further apart than before, if not one meter.

Restaurants opened up for indoor dining a couple of weeks later. When I heard the news, I was a little sad to lose the lovely new seating areas that had spread throughout town.

What I didn’t know was that a lot of Parisians felt that way. We weren’t ready to go inside, so we didn’t. And the restaurants listened.

Now that summer is in full swing, they have taken this show on the road, adding even more outdoor seating, putting planks over the gutters to keep chairs and tables on even ground. They’re erecting waist-high street-side fencing to keep the cars farther away. My local hangout, Le Dôme, unloaded a truck full of brand-new tables and wicker chairs and has set up a seating area across the street, and masked servers cross the road with their loaded trays while we sit under umbrellas and sip our cool drinks and nibble bread.

There are still rules. You have to wear a mask anytime you leave your table, the servers must be masked at all times, and instead of bottles of condiments, they serve little fast-food packets of ketchup and mustard. Servers wipe down the tables with spray cleaner now, instead of just brushing the crumbs onto the sidewalk. 

I’m still wary in public. Covid-19 has changed my behavior, making me more suspicious and possibly unreasonably sanitary. I avoid restaurant toilets, not knowing if a toilet-plume has left an invisible death cloud. If I haven’t used hand sanitizer when the server brings bread, I put my mask on, march to the nearest sanitizer station and scrub like I’m going into surgery, then return to my table and eat the bread. No more bisous, hugs, or handshakes—for now. 

It has been worth it.

We listened to the French government, with its PSAs and evolving rules and fines. Our hair got shaggy and we Zoomed until our eyes bled. We forgot what the ocean looks like, what the inside of a park smells like, what live music sounds like. The only food we ate was what we produced ourselves, or what was delivered to us, warm and soggy. 

But it paid off. All that mask-wearing and distancing, the boredom and anxiety and loneliness. God help us if there’s a second wave, but for now French society has mainly opened up (with a new mandatory mask rule for inside spaces), and you can find me outside, on a terrace.

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Written by Yvonne Hazelton Shao for HiP Paris. Looking to travel? Check out Haven In for a  fabulous vacation rental in Paris, France or Italy. Looking to rent long-term or buy in France or Italy? Ask us! We can connect you to our trusted providers for amazing service and rates.

Written By

Yvonne Hazelton

Yvonne is an American writer living in Paris. She blogs at Escaping the Empty Nest. View Yvonne Hazelton's Website

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