Cut-price Corona and home-delivered steaks: how Sydney restaurants are responding to the COVID crisis

Stuart Knox, owner of Fix Wines, is selling discounted Corona beer and take-away food in response to coronavirus.
Stuart Knox, owner of Fix Wines, is selling discounted Corona beer and take-away food in response to coronavirus. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Restaurants across Sydney are providing new takeaway menus and discounts in response to fast-moving developments as the coronavirus spreads.

"Business has been steady throughout the last few weeks, but on Monday we had all our bookings cancel through March," said Stuart Knox, who has operated Fix Wine Bar in Sydney's CBD for more than 10 years.  "I've been in the industry long enough to comfortably say business will go downhill very quickly from here."

In preparation for customer downturn at his 60-seat venue, Mr Knox has designed a daytime takeaway menu suitable for office workers who may not be able to dine-in due to workplace health and safety reasons, as well as selling gift vouchers at discounted rates.

"Our $200 dining voucher now costs $150, so customers can have a few drinks on us," he said. 

"It's borrowing against future earnings, really, but it's a way to get a bit of cash in the till and get us through the COVID crisis.

"We're also rolling out $6 Corona beer cans at happy hour because you still need to have a bit of fun."

According to Restaurant and Catering Industry Association chief executive Wes Lambert, the business of food and drink service has been far from "fun" for operators and employees over the past month, as COVID-19 causes more people to self-isolate than spend money in places designed for meetings, sustenance and general revelry.

"Restaurants are to the wall," said Mr Lambert. "Members are telling us their sales are down anywhere between 10 and 100 per cent. The 100 per cent figure is from caterers who have lost all of their forward bookings for the next three to six months."

Mr Lambert said some catering businesses are looking to list themselves as "virtual kitchens" with online food delivery platforms such as Uber Eats and Deliveroo.

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"It's a great idea to help keep the business afloat and people employed," he said. "We're advocating for delivery services working with caterers to bring them on board as quickly as possible."

In the past week, many Sydney restaurants have also announced self-managed takeaway and home-delivery services.

Bistro Rex in Potts Point is delivering steak frites and tuna tartare. Hunters Hill eatery Piccolina is launching ready-made meals that can be collected in store or delivered to a customer's car. Two-hatted Lucio's is offering a 25 per cent introductory discount for its new "At Home" menu, while its Paddington neighbour Barbetta has increased production of take-home pastas to keep up with demand.

"In the current climate, I'm sure almost every restaurant in Sydney will be happy to package a meal for customers to take home if they order ahead," said Tim Philips, co-owner and operator of Dead Ringer restaurant in Surry Hills and Bulletin Place bar in Circular Quay. 

He said that despite the COVID-19 crisis, he finds many Sydneysiders still want to head out "for delicious food and drink" and the bar operator is offering a $10 penicillin cocktail (a mix of honey, lemon and whisky) to customers patronising selected venues in the same local area.

"Everyone is doing it tough, so to stimulate some good old fashioned bar hopping, we're providing the 10-buck penicillin to anyone with a same-night receipt from bars tagged in Dead Ringer or Bulletin Place social media posts," he said. "It's a way to thank people for supporting our mates."