For many Melbourne restaurants, cafes and pubs, outdoor dining ‘just doesn’t work’
Josh Collins reckons if he was to reopen on October 26, an alfresco area at the front of the LuWOW bar in Melbourne’s CBD could probably fit about six people.
And to serve them, he’d probably have to hire a barman, a front-of-house manager and a chef.
“It just doesn’t work for us, and we’re all very experienced and capable operators that can run our businesses in a COVID-safe way, but we just haven’t been given that opportunity,” he said.
The Victorian Government announced $290 million on Monday to help businesses “reimagine” their operations and bring a New York-inspired dining and culture revival back to Melbourne when lockdown restrictions ease.
It included $100 million for a city recovery fund with contributions from both the State Government and the City of Melbourne.
While the Government spruiked its vision of a set of lasting changes moving the city towards alfresco dining, Mr Collins was considering the logistics of trying to seat patrons on the narrow and steep Little Collins Street walkway beside his bar.
“It’s just impossible,” he said.
“There’s just no area where we could possibly open up outside and I think that’s the case with a lot of CBD bars.”
Hospitality leaders call for faster return to indoor dining
Towards the Parliament-end of the CBD, Simon Hartley has seen revenue at his restaurant Becco plunge 90 per cent during the pandemic.
He said the idea of outdoor dining had merit, but would need to be done in close consultation with residents.
Mr Hartley said the next few months were a critical earning period for hospitality businesses, meaning it was “crunch time” now to get the plan right.
“Anything will help at the moment, to get us back on track, to get the city back on track, to get people coming into the city when they are allowed,” Mr Hartley said.
“We are going to need a lot of energy.”
Like many other restaurateurs, Mr Hartley says Melbourne’s fickle weather will make it a challenge.
Industry figures, including Mr Hartley, would like a swifter return to inside dining with density limits, given it worked well between the lockdowns.
Restaurateurs including Andrew McConnell and Guy Grossi have signed an open letter and petition to the Premier calling for a quicker opening up for hospitality.
Mayor says she’ll keep advocating for indoor dining
Melbourne’s Lord Mayor, Sally Capp, said city businesses had been badly affected by coronavirus lockdowns, and would need sustained support from all levels of Government.
She said the $100 million recovery fund for the city aimed to address this significant impact on CBD businesses.
“This new fund will be spent to re-activate this marvellous Melbourne,” she said.
The Mayor said council would streamline applications from businesses looking to open outdoor ventures.
“We need to become a city of ‘yes’,” she said.
But Cr Capp acknowledged concerns of hospitality leaders who don’t believe outdoor dining options are feasible for their businesses.
“We know that outdoor dining doesn’t suit all of our cafes, pubs and restaurants and we have a plan for fast-tracking indoor dining that we will continue to advocate to the Premier and the State Government,” she said.
Outdoor dining plan brings ‘hope’ to some businesses
Stan Chang from the Springvale Asian Business Association welcomed the Victorian Government’s plans to open up more outdoor dining across Melbourne.
He told ABC Melbourne Radio yesterday many small businesses were struggling with the second lockdown, and were looking for a way out of the associated financial problems.
“The announcement today will really give them some hope and it is really encouraging,” he said.
“But they are still wanting to know a little bit more about the details.”
He acknowledged there will be challenges for businesses trying to quickly change how they operate but said many small business owners are flexible and will do what works.
“It is not a very straight forward thing but a lot of businesses will try to make things work for them,” he said.