The phones are ringing hot at popular Melbourne restaurants, pubs and cafes, as eager customers try to book the first available tables when Victoria’s coronavirus restrictions ease on June 1.
- Victorian restaurants, cafes, and pubs are set to reopen to diners on June 1
- Customers have started making bookings already, even though time limits may be imposed on diners
- There is still some confusion among venues over guidelines, for example what constitutes a ‘genuine meal’
Hospitality venues were forced to close their doors or operate as takeaway businesses in March but, under the new rules, will be able to cater for up to 20 customers at a time.
Ben Anderson, the Victorian manager of the Australian Venue Company, said all 31 of its businesses would reopen on June 1 although bookings would be limited to two-hour sessions.
“People are trying to ring for groups of 10 or 20. We’re getting lots of calls through our reservations line,” he said.
A similar rush also occurred in Sydney this month when restrictions were eased in NSW, with some restaurants reportedly booked out in an hour.
‘We immediately got phone calls’
Staff at the Auburn Hotel in Melbourne’s inner east have been spending the week setting up equipment, furniture and glassware ahead of the long-awaited return of customers on June 1.
With the venue normally popular throughout the week, manager Heather Eiswirth said calls began flooding in when the State Government flagged the reopening of restaurants on May 17.
“As soon as the Government eased the restrictions we immediately got phone calls for people to book,” she said.
I think everyone misses the pub environment.
As stipulated by state regulations, every customer’s name, contact number, and address will be recorded on a database that could be accessed by health authorities.
Cafe’s creative ploy to improve atmosphere
Due to the reduced capacity, South Melbourne cafe St Ali will use black theatre curtains to artificially shrink its venue to give customers the impression that things are busy inside.
Owner Salvatore Malatesta said he had received “over 100 inquiries” from people wanting to book tables.
“We’ve got regulars who’ve been coming for 15 years. A dozen or slightly more come every day, seven days a week at the same time. Those guys are texting me saying ‘Make sure my table is available’,” Mr Malatesta said.
While he was pleased to be reopening his doors, Mr Malatesta was concerned many hospitality businesses would struggle to stay afloat when the Federal Government’s JopKeeper payments end in October.
“I’m remaining pretty positive because the alternative is terminal,” he said.
“There is no other description other than to say the pandemic has decimated hospitality.”
‘Mad scramble’ to get restaurants ready
The Victorian Government released some details of its plan to gradually reopen venues on May 17, and is due to announce more specifics about the rules on Monday.
From June 1, up to 20 patrons will be allowed in an “enclosed space” provided venues can ensure there is enough space for one person per four square metres.
The Government hopes to be able to allow up to 50 patrons from June 22, with up to 100 permitted during the second half of July.
“Increased hygiene measures” for staff and patrons will also be required.
Food critic and writer Dani Valent said there was also confusion in the industry about a condition that stated alcohol could only be served with a “genuine meal”.
Exactly what a genuine meal was — and whether it included smaller dishes like tapas, dumplings and bowls of chips — remained unclear.
“It’s going to be a mad scramble between May 25 and June 1 to get up to speed,” she said.
It’s also not clear what an enclosed space is and we don’t know about outdoor areas.
Ms Eiswirth agreed, and hoped the rules would allow larger venues like hers to be sectioned off into several enclosed spaces so they could operate with a higher capacity.
Victoria Police will conduct checks to ensure compliance, and they will have the power to issue on-the-spot fines of up to $9,913 for breaches.
Staff to return to work after long wait
The co-owner of CBD Italian restaurant Tipo 00, Andrea Papadakis, said he was “excited” to be reopening his doors on June 1, but said he would not be taking bookings for the time being.
The restaurant’s takeaway service would also continue when dining resumed.
“We don’t want to create queues,” Mr Papadakis said.
I don’t think it’ll be as hectic as many people think. People are still happy to stay back and see what’s going to happen.
“We’ll try to break even at the moment but it will be great for our staff.
“It will open up more shifts for our staff who have been waiting at home.”