Winter sun. Fronds of steam rising, wisp-like from your freshly served coffee. A brightly coloured blanket casually draped over your chair as you bask under the orange glow of an outdoor heater. It’s just so trés French. It’s also trés bad for the planet. This month, Rennes, the capital of Britanny, became the first city to ban patio heaters. A move which has proved controversial for the ‘café-clope’ (coffee and fag) crowd. Le heat is on for café terraces.
Paris Café Decreasing Numbers
Café owners were hit hard by 2007 legislation prohibiting smoking in public places. There are fears that a ban on heated terraces may be the last nail in the Parisian café coffin. Legislators argue that the heaters emit excessive levels of pollutants and need to be phased out. Café owners and unions disagree.
A Yorkshire Cappucino
A heated terrace is the equivalent of whacking your home heating on whilst throwing open the doors and windows in winter. You just wouldn’t do it. As a native northerner, I hate to admit that I’ve always quite enjoyed the decadence of a heated café terrace. When Europe offered the promise of real cappucino avec blanket as opposed to a Yorkshire cappucino – instant coffee with a dollop of squirty cream on top, a blanket felt like the height of outdoor chic.
Coffee has moved on in the UK (amen to the heavenly local John Watt & Son French Vanilla blend). So has our predilection for the heated terrace. We now know that can of squirty cream isn’t doing our health any good in the long run. The heated terrace is going to affect our climate in much the same way. And yet, still we sit and quaff. Enveloped in that cosy glow, blind to the consequences of what green campaigners have nicknamed “energy monsters”.
Paris Café Energy Monsters
Thierry Saloon, founder of French energy think tank négaWatt told Le Monde “Terrace heaters are an example of how mismanaged energy can have a colossal [negative] impact on the environment, yet be accepted by everyone.” The French Green Party (EELV) have tried, unsuccessfully, no fewer than three times in the last 10 years to get the heaters banned.
Je suis en terrace
After the terrorist attacks in 2015, Paris cafés and bistros became a symbol of resilience. The hashtag #jesuisenterrace (“I am outside”) demonstrated that it was business as usual for Parisians. Cafés played a crucial role in galvanising communities. They brought people together, fostering a sense of unity and camaraderie. 2019 saw Trade unions and café owners lobby UNESCO and Anne Hildago for recognition of the Parisian café’s “intangible cultural heritage.” There’s no doubt that whatever time of year, the Paris café holds a very special, gitanes infused place in the heart of many. I’ve sat outside my (heater-less) local café in the rain, in the snow and in a heatwave to observe Montmartre life.
In Paris where over two thirds of cafés have outdoor heating, the prospect of a ban on heaters has caused uproar. Synhorcat, the café union is warning that the ban could have catastrophic consequences for an industry already witnessing a decrease in numbers. They argue that if people stop drinking on heated terraces, there’ll be fewer patrons, fewer profits along with the need for fewer employees. A ban on heaters could signal the end of the vibrant café culture that we know and love.
Nobody, but nobody wants to see the traditional Paris café disappear. We don’t want to see independents replaced by homogenous international chains. In the absence of a better suggestion, an extra jumper anyone?