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As Madrid and Barcelona prepare for the next phase of lockdown loosening, they have radically different visions for how best to return to that crucial part of Spanish life, sitting on a terraza, cup, glass or snack in hand.

The two-month shutdown has given restaurateurs plenty of time to weigh up their options. But hopes that the reopening of outside tables will even begin to make up for the lost income appear wildly premature.

When terraces reopen on Monday, they will have to operate at 50% capacity and tables will need to be spaced 2 metres from one another.

Madrid city council has said the capital’s 5,323 terraces will accordingly be able to extend along building fronts, across unpaved areas and even, in exceptional circumstances, into parking bays.

“We’ve sought to increase flexibility when it came to previous restrictions to contribute to the city’s economic reactivation without reducing the rights of businesses or residents,” it said in a statement.

But Juan José Blardony, the head of the capital’s 138-year-old hospitality association, Hostelería Madrid, says that while his members are desperate to reopen, terrace-only operations simply won’t be worth it for most of them.

Although Madrid boasts some state-of-the-art terraces, complete with mists of cooling water in summer and industrial heaters in winter, the majority of them are far simpler and far smaller.

“Most places that have terraces only have small ones, so it’s not really viable for them to open up just for two, three, or four tables,” said Blardony.

“We think there will be demand from people who live in Madrid, but most of the terraces are too small. You’ve got the problem of having to take workers off temporary furloughs to do it. That all suggests to us that we won’t see more than 5% of terraces opening.”

In Barcelona, the city authorities have decreed that to compensate for losses incurred by social distancing, the 5,500 bars and restaurants that have licensed terraces may apply to extend the terrace to accommodate four more tables, each with four chairs.

In exceptional circumstances, this could be extended to six. A further 3,500 establishments, including hotels and bakeries, that don’t have terraces, may also apply.

The catch, however, is they can only expand by occupying existing road space or parking areas. Under no circumstances can they take space away from pedestrians. In other words, pavement cafés can’t take up more pavement.

“We have a vision of a city that takes into account everyone’s interests,” Jaume Collboni, the deputy mayor told a press conference earlier this week.

Bar and restaurant owners will have to apply if they want to occupy the street. Collboni gave an assurance that applications would be dealt with within a maximum of two weeks.

However, in much of the city the stretch of road nearest the pavement is a bus or cycle lane, so many see the plan as unworkable.

“In reality, the possibility of enlarging terraces is very limited and the process will be very slow,” said Roger Pallarols, the president of the Barcelona Restaurant Association.

“The pavement is the natural place for a terrace to grow,” he said. “Not only are there often no alternatives, it’s also quicker and cheaper to use the pavement.”

Nor is it clear how the rule would apply in squares or pedestrianised zones such as la Rambla where terraces can only occupy 15% of the total area.

“Although there is no consensus over the text, we could still arrive at a consensus on its application,” Pallarols insisted.

“It seems a good idea to let us have more tables but how are they going to make it work?” asked Patrick Pescetto, who co-founded the Buenas Migas chain of cafés in the city in 1988. “When you phone the town hall, no one has a clue what to do about it.

“Ada Colau, the mayor, got votes because people were fed up with tourism. Now there aren’t any tourists, it’s her chance to get votes by helping business to get back on its feet,” Pescetto said. “We employ 150 local people. Having lots of terraces in Barcelona for the people of Barcelona to enjoy would be a wonderful thing.”

Others are less philosophical.

“They have no concept of what is happening to business in this city,” said one anonymous restaurateur.

“Most restaurants will end up with half the number of tables – in most cases two to four – for months while having to pay rent and staff. It’s impossible. There’s going to be an economic tsunami and politicians are letting it happen.”

The latest move is part of a long-running dispute between Barcelona council and the hospitality industry over terraces and public space. In recent years the council has reduced the number of tables permitted and imposed higher taxes on terraces.

For example, the tax on a table with four chairs in the Rambla rose from €31,38 to €105,30 a month. These taxes are being waived during the state of emergency and will be reduced by 75% from June until the end of the year, a move that will cost the city €5m.

This article was written by Stephen Burgen in Barcelona and Sam Jones in Madrid from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Photo Credit: Back in simpler times, a tourist relaxes at terraza al museo in Madrid. Fernando García Redondo / Flickr