Melbourne hospitality owners say Victoria’s roadmap out of coronavirus lockdown is not practical
A plan to help Melbourne’s hospitality businesses boost their way out of lockdown has been criticised as “useless”, as some publicans choose to shut up shop for good.
Tracey Dean, who owns the the Morning Star Hotel in Williamstown, said Melbourne’s roadmap towards COVID-normal was “the last straw”.
“We had hung on by the skin of our teeth,” she said.
“We had no rent relief, we have been in negotiations since March.”
Ms Dean said if she had continued operating the business would have been in a “serious financial pickle”.
“The banks won’t look at us at the moment. We haven’t made money since February,” she said.
“We would have had to go into personal debt with friends and family to keep us afloat.”
President of the Victorian branch of the Australian Hotels Association, David Canny, told the ABC he was flooded with calls from pub owners in the 24 hours after Melbourne’s roadmap was announced.
He said more pubs were likely to fold before the end of the year.
“Some don’t want to come out and say anything because they are emotional and want to look after their staff,” he said.
Business owners say outdoor dining idea will not help
Mr Andrews said on Sunday he hoped local councils would help make alfresco dining a reality for cafes, pubs and restaurants when restrictions on outdoor dining would be lifted under the third step of the roadmap planned for October 26.
“If you look at some cities around the world, the kerbside car parking is gone, the footpath has been restricted, they have put plastic dividers between tables and they are seating more people outside than they could ever put inside. We are looking at all of that,” Mr Andrews said.
The City of Melbourne announced last week it would adopt a similar plan to New York City’s open restaurants policy that allows hospitality venues to use the footpath and laneways adjacent to their establishment to serve customers and ensure maximum social distancing.
Other municipalities have also come on board with Yarra, Darebin, Glen Eira, Port Phillip and Moonee Valley councils all confirming they would roll out policies allowing businesses to use areas such as car parks and laneways and even whole streets to serve customers.
Caterina Borsato, owner of Caterina’s Cucina E Bar in Melbourne’s CBD, said the idea was “useless” for her basement restaurant.
Ms Borsato said because the CBD was laid like a grid, little sunlight hit alleyways during the day, meaning businesses would have to fork out thousands for heaters and covers.
“It’s not practical. There’s a cost to making this work and we have no money coming in,” she said.
Ms Borsato’s restaurant is in Queen Street, a street she said was regularly filled with buses.
“It’s noisy and it’s not private and the footpaths won’t be wide enough for my sort of dining,” she said.
“It’s all very idealistic, but we need something concrete and we need to give hospitality some sort of hope. The CBD is a disaster.”
She said a more practical solution would be to allow restaurants to open indoors sooner with a lower cap such as 10 diners.
Publican says Melbourne’s weather makes idea impractical
Manager of the Grosvenor Hotel in St Kilda East, Frank Chilelli, said the idea was great in theory but was not practical.
“For us and a lot of old pubs that were never really set up for outdoor dining this is not an option.
“The Government needs to let us open up, just open our doors and let us serve people. We can do it safely,” he said.
Mr Chilelli’s pub is located on a busy six-lane road and he said opening on the footpath just would not work.
“They might be able to change legislation and let us use our carpark but we’re not set up for that, the carpark is at the back and logistically being able to serve people there would be a lot of work, it’s not practical,” he said.
“And let’s face it, we’re in Victoria, we’re not in Queensland where you can bank on seven days of sun, we know what Victoria is like; beautiful one day and disastrous the next minute.”
Mr Chilelli said financing an outdoor service would also be a major hurdle and meant the whole idea was “just silly”.
“We are already struggling from a financial aspect, to go ahead and invest more capital into an outdoor dining area isn’t worth it for 28 days, I don’t see the sense in this.”
‘Why would you invest thousands of dollars … for just 28 days?’
Restaurant and Catering Association head Wes Lambert agreed and said the idea was expensive and unlikely to help any business increase revenue.
He said, according to Melbourne’s roadmap, hospitality businesses could open up outside on October 26 if daily case thresholds were met, but 28 days later (if thresholds were met) indoor dining would be allowed to begin.
“So why would you invest thousands of dollars for tables and heaters, etc, to move your business outside if it wasn’t already outside, for just 28 days?
“It is great for businesses that already have outdoor seating — they can take on more revenue without more costs which is great but it doesn’t mean much for larger and medium venues especially in the CBD that have no access to outdoor dining.”
Mr Lambert said the association was lobbying for exemptions to be made to businesses that had zero access to outdoor dining to be allowed indoor dining.
Other business owners have been more optimistic.
Michael Vass is the co-owner of Curry Cafe in High Street, Northcote and said it was a good idea if it meant venues could increase capacity.
“I think that’s awesome, that’s great. For others, it will be awesome and for the morale of the community it will be great,” he said.
Mr Vass’s restaurant already has a few outdoor tables and he said all the indoor furniture would be moved outside to save on costs.
But reopening was still risky, he said, and would cost close to $10,000.
“We have grants which are awesome but we have to decide when we use it, do we use it now or do we wait? What if we open and have to close again?”
But either way, he said the news was “good to hear” and provided hope.