A restaurateur in Normandy has created his own heated bench business in a bid to deal with the ban on outdoor patio heaters.
Philippe Debray and his son Guillaume are co-owners of a brasserie in Pont-Audemer (Eure).
To get around France’s imminent ban on patio heaters, the pair took inspiration from heated seats in cars, and built their own eco-friendly heated benches for their outdoor terrace tables.
The benches’ energy use is far lower than that of traditional patio heaters, Philippe Debray said.
He told FranceInfo: “A two-metre-long bench takes 15 minutes to heat up, and uses 700 watts” per day, compared to the 2000-3,500 watts that patio heaters can use.
The owners are also saving on electricity bills, as heating the patio using normal heaters would cost “€60 in electricity per day”, Mr Debray said.
Father and son have now started their own company, Hotbench, to create more of the benches and to install the electrical components and insulation required.
The benches themselves are made of local, recycled aluminium.
While the duo admits that their solution is not 100% eco-friendly, they say that it is a more acceptable option, and enables them (and other restaurateurs) to open their terrace tables even in lower temperatures.
The Hotbench website states: “Want to make your place a warm and welcoming space, which consumes very little energy? We say yes! At Hotbench…we like terraces to be full of life and stories, even in the middle of winter.
“So we have worked hard to make this dream a reality for as many people as possible.”
Patio heater ban
Traditional patio heaters of all kinds are set to be banned in France from April 1, 2022, as part of the “Climat et Résilience” law. The ban had been planned earlier, but the Covid crisis meant it was delayed until this year.
The heaters are highly polluting, using vast amounts of electricity.
The French NGO energy think tank négaWatt has found that a single restaurant terrace heated with patio heaters can use as much as “50,400 kWh per winter” and “emit 13.7 tonnes of carbon gas”, which is “the equivalent of a new car driving for 122,000km, or three times around the world”.
To put it another way, Hotbench states: “The 40,000 Paris terrace heaters produce 110,000 tonnes of CO2 per winter, when counting all of the Paris terraces. That’s 110,000 return Paris-New York flights, or four million tonnes of beef. It’s 240 car trips around the world.”
Increased revenue thanks to comfort
Yet, independent hospitality group union GNI (Groupement national des indépendants) has warned that patios and terraces are extremely important sources of revenue to restaurants and cafes.
It said: “Terraces represent 30% of business in the hospitality and restaurant sector. A large part of this 30% comes thanks to heating, and the comfort it brings to customers.”
Indeed, patrons at the Debrays’ brasserie have voiced their support for the hot bench idea.
One said: “We can have a coffee even when it’s cold!”, while another said: “I think it’s a fantastic idea. Now they’ve done it, it seems kind of obvious!”