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Virus is pummeling Europe's eateries — and winter is coming

As the Friday night dinner service began earlier this month at the De Viering restaurant outside Brussels, it seemed the owners' decision to move the operation into the spacious village church to comply with coronavirus rules was paying off. The reservation book was full and the kitchen was bustling.

And then Belgium's prime minister ordered cafes, bars and restaurants to close for at least a month in the face of surging infections.

“It’s another shock, of course, because — yes, all the investments are made,” said chef Heidi Vanhasselt. She and her sommelier husband Christophe Claes had installed a kitchen and new toilets in the Saint Bernardus church in Heikruis, as well as committing to 10 months’ rent and pouring energy into creative solutions.

Table settings are empty in the middle of the restaurant De Viering in Heikrus, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. The coronavirus pandemic is gathering strength again in Europe and, with winter coming, its restaurant industry is struggling. The spring lockdowns were already devastating for many, and now a new set restrictions is dealing a second blow. Some governments have ordered restaurants closed; others have imposed restrictions curtailing how they operate. (AP PhotoFrancisco Seco)

Vanhasselt's frustration is Europe's as a resurgence of the coronavirus is dealing a second blow to the continent's restaurants, which already suffered under lockdowns in the spring. From Northern Ireland to the Netherlands, European governments have shuttered eateries or severely curtailed how they operate.

More than just jobs and revenue are at stake — restaurants lie at the heart of European life. Their closures are threatening the social fabric by shutting the places where neighbors mix, extended families gather and the seeds of new families are sown.

A restaurant remains “a place where very special moments are celebrated,” said Griet Grassin of the Italian restaurant Tartufo on the outskirts of Brussels. “It’s not just the food, but it’s the well-being.”

FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 19, 2020 file photo, hospitality workers protest in Parliament Square in London. The coronavirus pandemic is gathering strength again in Europe and, with winter coming, its restaurant industry is struggling. The spring lockdowns were already devastating for many, and now a new set restrictions is dealing a second blow. Some governments have ordered restaurants closed; others have imposed restrictions curtailing how they operate. (AP PhotoFrank Augstein, File)

This time, the closures are particularly painful because they might stretch into the Christmas season, nixing everything from pre-holiday office drinks to a special meal on the day.

When it comes to purely calories and vitamins, “of course we can live without restaurants,” said food historian professor Peter Scholliers.

But, he asked: “We can live without being social? No, we can’t.”

FILE - In this Sept. 22, 2020 file photo, people are seated eating and drinking in Covent Garden, in London. The coronavirus pandemic is gathering strength again in Europe and, with winter coming, its restaurant industry is struggling. The spring lockdowns were already devastating for many, and now a new set restrictions is dealing a second blow. Some governments have ordered restaurants closed; others have imposed restrictions curtailing how they operate. (AP PhotoAlberto Pezzali, File)

Successful restaurants have always had to adapt quickly — but never has there been a challenge like this.

The European Union said the hotel and restaurant industry suffered a jaw-dropping 79.3% decline in production between February and April. Try bouncing back from that.

Summer, with its drop in COVID-19 cases and a hesitant return to travel, brought some respite, especially in coastal resorts.

FILE - In this Monday, June 1, 2020 file photo, customers seated in small glasshouses enjoy lunch at the Mediamatic restaurant in Amsterdam, Netherlands. The coronavirus pandemic is gathering strength again in Europe and, with winter coming, its restaurant industry is struggling. The spring lockdowns were already devastating for many, and now a new set restrictions is dealing a second blow. Some governments have ordered restaurants closed; others have imposed restrictions curtailing how they operate. (AP PhotoPeter Dejong, File)

But then came fall. Any giddiness that the fallout from the pandemic could somehow be contained faced the sobering reality of relentlessly rising coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. Overall, COVID-19 has killed over 240,000 people across all of Europe. Government leaders are now warning things will get worse before they get better.

But many restaurant owners have bristled at the new round of restrictions, and some are openly challenging them.

In London last week, the preeminent chef Yotam Ottolenghi banged pots on the street to protest restrictions that include earlier closing times.

FILE - In this Saturday, May 9, 2020 file photo, restaurant owner Paolo Polli stages a protest in Milan, Italy. The coronavirus pandemic is gathering strength again in Europe and, with winter coming, its restaurant industry is struggling. The spring lockdowns were already devastating for many, and now a new set restrictions is dealing a second blow. Some governments have ordered restaurants closed; others have imposed restrictions curtailing how they operate. (AP PhotoLuca Bruno, File)

“It’s really hard, we’ve got a great industry with lots of heart,” Ottolenghi said. “And there’s so many people who depend on it.”

If the mood of any nation is set by its stomach, surely France's is. And it is turning as sour as a rhubarb tartlet. The streets of Paris, the culinary capital of Lyon and several other French cities were eerily empty at night during the first week of a 9 p.m. curfew scheduled to last for at least a month.

Xavier Denamur, who owns five Parisian cafes and bistros that employ around 70 workers, said the French government is unfairly punishing the industry.

FILE - In this Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020 file photo, empty tables of a restaurant in the Duomo Square in Milan, Italy. The coronavirus pandemic is gathering strength again in Europe and, with winter coming, its restaurant industry is struggling. The spring lockdowns were already devastating for many, and now a new set restrictions is dealing a second blow. Some governments have ordered restaurants closed; others have imposed restrictions curtailing how they operate. (AP PhotoLuca Bruno, File)

“It’s a catastrophic measure,” he said, arguing any curfew should be pushed to at least 11 p.m. to allow for a proper dinner service.

In Italy, just such a late-night curfew went into effect in Milan — and even that triggered protests.

Still, highlighting how the world is feeling its way in the near darkness, restaurant and food delivery business owner Matteo Lorenzon argued the opposite. “Having a curfew starting at 11 p.m., it’s too late.”

Chef Heidi Vanhasselt.and her sommelier husband Christophe Claes pose for a photograph in their restaurant De Viering in Heikrus, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. The coronavirus pandemic is gathering strength again in Europe and, with winter coming, its restaurant industry is struggling. The spring lockdowns were already devastating for many, and now a new set restrictions is dealing a second blow. Some governments have ordered restaurants closed; others have imposed restrictions curtailing how they operate. (AP PhotoFrancisco Seco)

Already in September, more than 400,000 employees of restaurants and cafes in Italy, a nation of 60 million, were unemployed, according to an estimate by Fipe, the restaurant lobby group. Its prediction for the coming months was even more dire: “Hundreds of thousands of jobs risk being erased definitively."

In the Netherlands, which has one of the highest virus infection rates in Europe, more than 60 Dutch bars and restaurants sought to overturn a monthlong closure order but failed. Lawyer Simon van Zijll, representing the bars and restaurants, warned that the Dutch hospitality industry faces “a tidal wave of bankruptcies.”

The first lockdown in the spring caught the owners of Tartufo, the restaurant on the outskirts of Brussels, off guard.

FILE - In this Friday, Oct. 2, 2020 file photo, restaurant owners clang spoons and casseroles at a demonstration against restaurant and bar closures in Marseille, southern France. The coronavirus pandemic is gathering strength again in Europe and, with winter coming, its restaurant industry is struggling. The spring lockdowns were already devastating for many, and now a new set restrictions is dealing a second blow. Some governments have ordered restaurants closed; others have imposed restrictions curtailing how they operate. (AP PhotoDaniel Cole, File)

This time, Grassin and her husband chef Kayes Ghourabi, were ready: They will ramp up their takeaway service and even offer their own gin with Mediterranean spices. Still, income will drop by about 70% to 80%.

“We lose, but it helps the costs. The electricity, the insurance that keep on going, even in a lockdown," she said.

Across Europe, the stories are the same — of chefs thinking creatively, making something of a bad situation, showing resilience to save something they often built from scratch.

FILE - In this Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020 file photo, people enjoy drinks in a cafe terrace in Paris. The coronavirus pandemic is gathering strength again in Europe and, with winter coming, its restaurant industry is struggling. The spring lockdowns were already devastating for many, and now a new set restrictions is dealing a second blow. Some governments have ordered restaurants closed; others have imposed restrictions curtailing how they operate. (AP PhotoLewis Joly, File)

“I have a son, and I always say to my husband, ‘the restaurant was our first child.’ And you want to fight for it," Grassin said.

Takeout is also a lifeline for Paolo Polli, who owned five bars and restaurants in Milan before closing four recently. His staff was cut from 60 to six. He said he made more money during the lockdown with his pizza-delivery service than when he reopened for regular service.

Down south, a balmy fall offered some reprieve, allowing restaurants to serve on outside terraces.

Chef Kayes Ghourabi works in the kitchen as he prepares take-away meals in his restaurant, Tartufo, in Sint-Pieters-Leeuw, Belgium, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. The coronavirus pandemic is gathering strength again in Europe and, with winter coming, its restaurant industry is struggling. The spring lockdowns were already devastating for many, and now a new set restrictions is dealing a second blow. Some governments have ordered restaurants closed; others have imposed restrictions curtailing how they operate. (AP PhotoFrancisco Seco)

Despite this, in Portugal, the AHRESP restaurant association said restaurants lost more than half of their revenue. Now the chilly weather, stronger winds and rain are forcing everyone back indoors, where the virus spreads most easily.

“It will be impossible,'' said Artur Veloso, who manages the Risca restaurant in Carcavelos. “Winter will bring more ruin."

Associated Press writers Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Fran D'Emilio in Rome, Andrea Rosa in Milan, Thomas Adamson in Paris and Mike Corder in The Hague contributed.

Dinner service plates are covered in plastic and stored away at the restaurant, Tartufo, in Sint-Pieters-Leeuw, Belgium, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. Tartufo, a successful dinner restaurant has now been forced to be inventive with take-away service. The coronavirus pandemic is gathering strength again in Europe and, with winter coming, its restaurant industry is struggling. The spring lockdowns were already devastating for many, and now a new set restrictions is dealing a second blow. Some governments have ordered restaurants closed; others have imposed restrictions curtailing how they operate. (AP PhotoFrancisco Seco)

Follow all of AP’s coronavirus pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and h ttps://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Chef Kayes Ghourabi works in the kitchen as he prepares take-away meals in his restaurant, Tartufo, in Sint-Pieters-Leeuw, Belgium, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. The coronavirus pandemic is gathering strength again in Europe and, with winter coming, its restaurant industry is struggling. The spring lockdowns were already devastating for many, and now a new set restrictions is dealing a second blow. Some governments have ordered restaurants closed; others have imposed restrictions curtailing how they operate. (AP PhotoFrancisco Seco)

FILE - In this Monday, May 18, 2020 file photo, a waiter, wearing a protective face mask, brings an order to a customer sitting outdoors at the Versailles restaurant and pastry shop in Lisbon, Portugal. The coronavirus pandemic is gathering strength again in Europe and, with winter coming, its restaurant industry is struggling. The spring lockdowns were already devastating for many, and now a new set restrictions is dealing a second blow. Some governments have ordered restaurants closed; others have imposed restrictions curtailing how they operate. (AP PhotoArmando Franca, File)

FILE - In this Monday, June 1, 2020 file photo, hotel worker Mailinda Kaci cleans the windows in a restaurant area at the Acropolian Spirit Hotel in central Athens with the ancient Acropolis in the background. The coronavirus pandemic is gathering strength again in Europe and, with winter coming, its restaurant industry is struggling. The spring lockdowns were already devastating for many, and now a new set restrictions is dealing a second blow. Some governments have ordered restaurants closed; others have imposed restrictions curtailing how they operate. (AP PhotoPetros Giannakouris, File)

FILE- In this Tuesday, June 2, 2020 file photo, diners apply hand sanitizer provided by staff at a seafood restaurant in Marseille, southern France. The coronavirus pandemic is gathering strength again in Europe and, with winter coming, its restaurant industry is struggling. The spring lockdowns were already devastating for many, and now a new set restrictions is dealing a second blow. Some governments have ordered restaurants closed; others have imposed restrictions curtailing how they operate. (AP PhotoDaniel Cole, File)

FILE - In this Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020 file photo, a beggar kneels in front of a closed restaurant in downtown Prague, Czech Republic. The coronavirus pandemic is gathering strength again in Europe and, with winter coming, its restaurant industry is struggling. The spring lockdowns were already devastating for many, and now a new set restrictions is dealing a second blow. Some governments have ordered restaurants closed; others have imposed restrictions curtailing how they operate. (AP PhotoPetr David Josek, File)

FILE - In this Friday, Oct. 16, 2020 file photo, workers of catering sectors take part in a protest organized by restaurants and bar owners in Barcelona, Spain. The coronavirus pandemic is gathering strength again in Europe and, with winter coming, its restaurant industry is struggling. The spring lockdowns were already devastating for many, and now a new set restrictions is dealing a second blow. Some governments have ordered restaurants closed; others have imposed restrictions curtailing how they operate. (AP PhotoEmilio Morenatti, File)