Hospitality industry praises latest easing of restrictions in NSW

Merivale owner Justin Hemmes said the changes were "another positive step on the road to recovery".
Merivale owner Justin Hemmes said the changes were "another positive step on the road to recovery".  Photo: Louise Kennerley

Restaurant owners and caterers are celebrating the NSW government's latest easing of restrictions as they dare to dream of a busy Christmas period. 

But business owners remain hopeful of further restrictions being eased soon to enable larger end-of-year events and parties that provide revenue during a vital period. 

On Monday NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced that from Friday restaurants can accept group bookings of 30 people instead of 10. The guests can also sit at the same table when the previous cap was 10 people per table. 

"Restaurants will get busier and we'll be able to employ more people." Chef and restaurateur Luke Mangan at the Hilton's ...
"Restaurants will get busier and we'll be able to employ more people." Chef and restaurateur Luke Mangan at the Hilton's Glass Blasserie.  Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Hotelier and Merivale hospitality group owner Justin Hemmes said the changes were "another positive step on the road to recovery". 

"I commend the state government for its progressive relaxation of restrictions to boost the economy," Mr Hemmes said. "It's a big win for smaller celebrations such as birthday parties and celebratory lunches or dinners now being allowed up to 30 [guests] from 10." 

From December 1 weddings can have 300 guests, which Mr Hemmes described as "a big win" that would provide certainty for people planning events. 

Mimi's restaurant at the Coogee Pavilion, owned by Justin Hemmes.
Mimi's restaurant at the Coogee Pavilion, owned by Justin Hemmes. Photo: Steven Woodburn

The latest changes particularly benefit medium-sized venues which have the floor space to accommodate extra guests while the four-square-metre rule still applies indoors. Since last Friday venues can seat one person per two square metres outdoors. 

End-of-year functions and parties drive substantial revenue for the hospitality industry and business owners hope restrictions ease further in coming weeks.

Create Catering director Anthony Whitehouse said the lead-up to Christmas usually contributes 60 per cent of his annual revenue. 

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Mr Whitehouse hopes NSW adopts the South Australian approach of allowing people to move around so he can resume cocktail events which form the bulk of his business.

Mr Hemmes agreed: "The next major step for the industry and employment will be people permitted to stand and socialise in their groups. [That] will be a big one mentally - a huge sign we're moving back to normality." 

Restaurateur Luke Mangan said the latest changes were "fantastic news". 

Chef Tristan Rosier at his restaurant Arthur in Surry Hills. He says the latest easing of restrictions will be of ...
Chef Tristan Rosier at his restaurant Arthur in Surry Hills. He says the latest easing of restrictions will be of minimal benefit to smaller restaurants. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

"It's going to enable restaurants to get through what's been a very tough period. We were the first to be hit with the pandemic and the last to come out of it," he said. 

"By doing this restaurants will get busier and we'll be able to employ more people - it's a win-win for everyone." 

Mr Mangan said the timing was excellent with the Melbourne Cup coming up, and he predicts Christmas will see a spike in people eating out. 

"People are sick of cooking at home and will want to go to restaurants for these sort of events." 

He remains hopeful that with a steady amount of low case numbers of COVID-19 that the government will soon allow one person per two square metres indoors. 

Restaurant and Catering Association chief executive Wes Lambert said hospitality businesses would be "jumping up and down at this news today". 

"They certainly needed it going into the remainder of spring and summer going into holiday bookings," he said. 

Smaller venues such as Tristan Rosier Arthur restaurant in Surry Hills will see only minimal benefit from the latest changes, because of the four-square-metre rule remaining in place. 

"It won't make any difference for us so that's disappointing," he said. "It definitely helps the guys who are a little bit bigger, the 50-60 [guests] sort of size."