Can we come back from a restaurant depression?

Myffy Rigby
Empty tables at a restaurant in Circular Quay in Sydney, on Saturday.
Empty tables at a restaurant in Circular Quay in Sydney, on Saturday. Photo: James Gourley

You've heard the argument. Dining in restaurants is irresponsible in an age of COVID-19 when anyone could be a carrier. But many of us (myself included) continued to eat out in a bid to boost the dining scene and to keep venues open just that little bit longer. But perhaps that was wrong. Perhaps that sign of solidarity was misplaced and what we should have actually been doing is putting more pressure on the government to call it sooner. Perhaps then, restaurants would have had more time to collect themselves and make an action plan - one that let staff off incrementally, not in one fell swoop.   

On Friday, PM Scott Morrison announced all "non-essential activities in venues including cafes, pubs and clubs, would now be subject to a restriction of one person per every four square metres." The reality for small bars and restaurants is pretty grim. All those tiny, idiosyncratic venues we all love to love - the ones that poured time, money and attention into making something truly emblematic and individual are closing by the minute. Even the bigger venues - the ones that can actually manage to accommodate such stringent (and extremely necessary) rules - are going to have to question whether staying open is actually worth it.

By Monday, Sydney is likely to be a ghost town.   

A friend and I discussed the semantics of whether we are facing a recession or a depression. In the current climate - one of uncertainty, anxiety and loss - it's hard to differentiate. But without a significant government bailout, what future is there for small businesses? Does culture - live music, bars, restaurants, art, cinema and performance - live on, or die because it's not deemed as essential as say, a big airline company? Should the responsibility of making those calls, those big calls that affect the country and our place in the world, be made by parliament or should we, as the Australian population, have a say when it comes to where some of this money goes? If, indeed, we're facing a depression, shouldn't we argue for more on the ground and less in the sky?

Empty tables at the Opera Bar restaurant in Sydney.
Empty tables at the Opera Bar restaurant in Sydney. Photo: James Gourley

When it comes to what has historically been a thriving, beautiful, interesting, vibrant hospitality scene, Sydney is spinning. No one knows what to do. The good news stories are yet to present themselves and while restaurants, bars, cafes and pubs try their best to adapt, the speed with which they're expected to do so is unprecedented and nigh-on impossible. Especially for the little guys. What we, as diners can do, is be patient. To support initiatives where and when they arise and to give our custom where and when it is safe to do so. The only guarantee any of us have right now is the guarantee of community.