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Pleasant but pricey: First reviews of Senate Square food court

The unexpected popularity led to occasional standing room only and drinks being sold out.

Senaatintorille rakennettava terassialue.
The giant terrace area in Senate Square opened on Wednesday, 1 July. Image: Petteri Juuti / Yle

Despite the inclement weather, the giant al fresco dining area in Helsinki’s centrally-located Senate Square has proved to be extremely popular, with an estimated 7,000 food and drink connoisseurs converging on the cathedral square during its first week.

Espoo resident Erja Strahl told Yle she enjoyed the atmosphere at the 480-seat open air terrace, and was also impressed by the table layout, which allowed diners to maintain safe physical distances.

"It's a nice feeling here. Quite affordable or maybe a little overpriced, but of course it is a pleasure to give money to small businesses," Strahl said.

Strahl’s comments reflected the general feeling of visitors during the week, with much praise for the comfort and atmosphere, but many complaints about the high prices.

For example, a glass of wine costs between seven and 15 euros, while a pint of beer is 6.50 euros.

There were no such complaints from Seppo Asikainen however, who came to the square with his wife to meet their grandson for the first time in six months after coronavirus restrictions had kept them apart.

"It’s just really nice to be in the fresh air," Asikainen said.

Another visitor, Sara Nissinen, told Yle she hopes the terrace -- which was opened up to allow restaurants accommodate customers while complying with distancing requirements -- will become a permanent fixture every summer.

"Absolutely, because I would like to come again at least," Nissinen said. "This is a nice place."

Expansion will bring capacity to 800 seats

There were also some customer grumblings during the first week about a lack of seating, especially during peak times, but there are plans to add another 350 new seats to the terrace in the coming weeks, bringing its capacity to 830.

Peggy Bauer, the Area and Commercial Director responsible for managing the three oldest blocks in the centre of Helsinki known as the torikorttelit, told Yle that the terrace’s popularity came as such a surprise that sometimes only standing room was available, and that drink supplies sold out.

"Champagnes have run out on a couple of occasions, as well as wines. But customers have given really good feedback that there is now such a destination in the centre of Helsinki where you can enjoy food and drink in beautiful surroundings," Bauer said.

When the weather turned especially bad, people moved from the terrace to nearby restaurants and other indoor spaces. According to Bauer, this is a welcome outcome and was one of the purposes behind the idea, to attract people back to the centre of Helsinki again.

In response to customer questions about whether the terrace will become a summer tradition in the centre of Helsinki, Bauer replied that it is still an open conversation at this point.

"Next year has not yet been thought about yet," Bauer said. "Now we will just look and learn. The starting point has been that this is an exceptional circumstance for an exceptional time."

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