It is a general rule that if the sun is shining, the Irish head outdoors. This year feels even more precious. After enduring an exceptionally bleak winter, the worst of the pandemic is finally looking like it’s behind us for good. Now, we are stocking up on sun cream and gearing up for the ultimate summer of outdoor activities. While the Irish have always celebrated summer, and our ‘grand stretch in the evenings,’ historically we have not had the same al fresco culture as our Mediterranean neighbours. We are now witnessing a transformation. As the country opens up gradually, outdoor leisure is having its heyday. We can’t change the Irish weather, but we are changing our approach.
The Irish government has been encouraging the public to ‘think outdoors’ this summer. After the Minister for Tourism and Fáilte Ireland announced the €17 million, Outdoor Dining Enhancement Scheme, restaurants have been retrofitting and weather-proofing outdoor seating in mass. Since the phased re-opening of hospitality has begun, reservations for pubs and restaurants are in high demand. The Ivy Dawson Street, for instance, has opened its al fresco terrace for seasonal dishes and 1960s themed cocktails in what they are calling their ‘Summer of Love.’
Local authorities are also using public funding to create permanent outdoor dining spaces, like those widespread across Continental Europe. There’s also been a big push to pedestrianise large swaths of the city to accommodate safer outdoor mingling. Cork City has increased the number of pedestrianised streets from six to 17 to give local businesses more space to serve customers. Galway has announced it will close six streets. Dublin City Council is working to reduce traffic around several of the city’s dining and shopping districts such as Merrion Row, South Anne Street, and Capel Street. Businesses in Temple Bar have submitted a proposal which could provide space for up to 3,000 outdoor diners in the quarter.
There is a lot of public energy behind these new planning measures as the urban population has never been so eager to get out and about. While these changes are technically ‘trials’ or temporary measures, with enough support from locals and business, it’s likely that many will become permanent. Dublin City Council, which normally charges cafes, restaurants, and pubs to put out street furniture, has committed to waiving fees until 2023. Meanwhile, new food trucks and coffee trailers continue to pop up in every lot and car park imaginable. We appear to be on the cusp of reshaping city living in Ireland completely.
As we look for ways to maximise our second (and hopefully last) pandemic summer, many have been giving their own, private outdoor spaces a makeover. Some of these projects were already underway. Bord Bia’s research found consumer spending in the gardening sector reached a record €1.2bn in 2020. The area with greatest increase was hard landscaping features, BBQ equipment, and garden structures (such as sheds) as people were eager to revamp their outdoor spaces to be better utilised. Early this year, retailers were concerned that the demand for garden furniture was quickly outpacing supply. The Financial Times reports that the ‘craze for inflatable pools and hot tubs has lasted.’ Some even took to making their own. Patio heaters and fire pits have also been highly sought after, as have outdoor pizza ovens. John Lewis, for example, has seen a 90% increase in demand for outdoor pizza ovens as people are looking for ways to up their hosting game. And with Aldi launching its fire pit for a second year on June 20th, we’re wondering if the 5am queues will start again.
Whether it’s a city-wide level or personal level, large investments are going towards embracing the outdoors in new ways. And, after over a year of picnics, take away pints, and a record number of walks, we are also in the midst of a cultural transition. This is an exciting territory for Irish brands. This new occasion creates a myriad of opportunities from food to fashion to design. This new infrastructure and these new rituals stand to last well-beyond the pandemic. It will serve brands to get into the conversation and begin building those al fresco associations now.