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Hungry sushi lovers return as restaurant buffet ban lifted

As a Helsinki restaurant operator breathes a sigh of relief, a nightclub manager is still waiting to open for business.

Noutopöytä Luckiefun´s ravintolassa
Starting on Monday, restaurants were once again allowed to offer buffets and may also serve up to 75 percent of their normal capacity indoors, as long as each customer has a seat. Image: Pekka Tynell / Yle

The Luckiefun sushi buffet restaurant in Helsinki's Pasila neighbourhood was busy on Monday, the same day a coronavirus-related ban on buffet service was lifted.

Some customers, including Joona Kerola, were eating out for the very first time since government restrictions were tightened during the spring.

"I've already been to a restaurant terrace [since they reopened], but this is the first time I've been inside a restaurant. It was nice to come to a set table after a long time," Kerola told Yle.

Last week the government lifted some restrictions on restaurants, hospitals and public events. Starting on Monday, restaurants were again allowed to offer buffets and serve up to 75 percent of their normal capacity indoors - as long as each customer has a seat.

Some customers said they felt the loosening of the restrictions was a sign that life was getting back on track.

"I'm trying to return to normal life again and have lunch with colleagues. I also keep in mind that this past spring has been tough on many entrepreneurs and in the evenings I might prefer choosing smaller restaurants," said Iona Maaranto, a diner at the sushi restaurant.

Story continues after photo

Luckie Bao ostoskeskus Triplan ravintolassa
Luckiefun sushi restaurant chain founder and CEO, Luckie Bao. Image: Pekka Tynell / Yle
The sushi eatery chain's founder and CEO, Luckie Bao, said the lifting of restrictions on buffet service has eased the restaurant's operations, adding that he thinks the move will lower the threshold for people tempted by the idea of going out to eat again.

"Yes the customers have also been pleased to be able to serve themselves. Old habits die hard," Bao said.

Starting on Monday, establishments were also permitted to sell alcohol between 9am and 1am, and remain open until 4am. Earlier restrictions in place kept bars and pubs closed by 11pm. But establishments must still be able to provide enough seats for customers, adequately distanced from one another in an aim to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus.

"Basically, the idea is to focus on groups of customers. It should be remembered that customers are also responsible for their actions," said Jarmo Ruusu, the head of southern Finland's Regional State Administrative Agency's business control unit.

Ruusu said that it is not forbidden for customers to move about as they visit establishments, but it should be done so that sufficient distance between groups of customers is still maintained.

Restrictions keep nightclub closed

The guidelines continue to pose problems for places like nightclubs, according to the manager of the Helsinki gay club DTM, Tomi Häkkinen, who said it wouldn't be profitable to open yet.

"Due to the nature of the space, it is difficult for us to make customers sit at tables. Also, during these hours we'd have to compete for customers with dining restaurants, terraces and summer events," Häkkinen explained.

The manager said the club has tried to come up with alternative activities that are different to traditional nightclubs. But opening the doors would incur costs, regardless of customer turnouts. Häkkinen said it is unlikely that the club will open soon, in any case.

The restrictions that went into effect on Monday will expire on 12 July.

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