How to help Australian restaurants survive COVID-19

Myffy Rigby
Beyond the menu: Support Ben Shewry's Attica by ordering T-shirts, tea towels, ceramics and hoodies.
Beyond the menu: Support Ben Shewry's Attica by ordering T-shirts, tea towels, ceramics and hoodies. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Last Monday, Melbourne restaurateur Ronnie Di Stasio posted an open letter to the government across social and traditional media, a cry for help asking for the nation's leaders to step in and help save hospitality as we know it. "Never," he says, "in Australian history has our mental health and wellbeing been at such risk."

Di Stasio's proposed plan includes a more inclusive JobKeeper package, extended to temporary visa holders (the deadline for JobKeeper may have been extended to March 2021 but, after the original September cut-off, the amount employees will receive will be less and harder to access). He also suggests abolishing fringe benefits tax (to encourage big business to start entertaining in restaurants again) and payroll tax.

Victoria went into stage-four lockdown, which means delivery-only from restaurants, while NSW restaurants have seen a dramatic downturn in business, with some reporting a 25 per cent dip in patronage as Sydneysiders and beyond are becoming more cautious about dining out.

There's no denying coronavirus is crippling our already-struggling restaurant scene. What can we do to help support an industry that's such a crucial part of Australian life? We asked the hospitality brains trust to give us some advice. 

Sean McConnell chef at Monster restaurant at Hotel Hotel in Canberra on Friday 28 November 2014 for AFR Photo: Andrew Meares

'Delete Uber Eats and Deliveroo from your phone': Sean McConnell, ACT. Photo: Andrew Meares

What can diners do to help keep the lights on?

Support us, but take care of yourselves

The community that we serve has been incredible, despite the fact that their own lives have been so affected. In terms of Victoria, all I can say is that once we reopen we will need public support more than ever by coming out and supporting your favourite cafe, restaurants or bars. In Sydney, people should take care, but head out and support bars and restaurants. Every order, be it takeaway or visiting venues, will save jobs. 

Chris Lucas, Lucas Group, VIC

Be tolerant and patient with us as we work it out

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There needs to be more of a collaborative approach between venues and guests. If you can, use the "at home" offerings that many restaurants have created. In Sydney, be supportive and tolerant of "out by" times, and cancel with as much notice as possible if plans change. Replacing that cancelled booking is essential for a venue to survive. 

Ross and Sunny Lusted, Woodcut, NSW

Delete the apps

Delete Uber Eats and Deliveroo from your phone. Restaurants benefit so little from these platforms. Go pick up your food wherever it's feasible and safe to do so. 

Sean McConnell, Rebel Rebel, ACT

Buy takeaway

Buy takeaway meals, groceries, vouchers, make bookings for the future and just be civil in all dealings with restaurant staff if they are making contact to assist with cancelling bookings. If you are in a position to do so, reschedule rather than request a refund for a deposit paid. And then, when restrictions are lifted, please go back to restaurants. 

Dan Hunter and Julianne Bagnato, Brae, VIC

Trust that we are doing a great job of keeping our venues safe for you

Please keep supporting your favourite bars, even if it's just to buy a T-shirt or packaged cocktails to have a Zoom drink with your buddies (almost all your favourite places will now offer this service). Bars have always been about people, and that's never been more evident or important than right now. In Sydney good operators are taking every measure to be able to still offer hospitality and a safe environment for people to socialise in (albeit seated, and socially distanced). We wash our hands 100 times a night, the bar gets wiped constantly, and deep-cleaned every day. Customers can play their part by following the rules – checking in, using sanitiser, keeping socially distant, and showing up to bookings. Please don't book for 10 people and show up with 35. We can't work from home so we'll do our part and hope that guests stick with us and do theirs. 

Pasan Wijesena, Earls Juke Joint, NSW

Alla Wolf-Tasker at the Lake House.

'Be prepared for and understand the changed hospitality world': Alla Wolf-Tasker. Photo: Lisa Cohen

Keep up the love

Keep sending us all the awesome messaging and words of support. They are among the things that have kept us sane and with our glasses half full (mostly) over the past six months. Please shop restaurant businesses online while everyone is locked down. In many cases it's the trickle of income that allows us to give some of our team some hours. Be prepared for and understand the changed hospitality world we will all emerge to. Most of all, come back soon – as soon as you (and we) are able. 

Alla Wolf-Tasker, Lake House restaurant, VIC

Help your favourites survive

Some of our customers have  led by example in two ways. The first are those who are spending at venues they want to see on the other side. We are fortunate that they put us in that category. The second are customers who [order] at least once a week. Their feedback on what's good and what could be tweaked has given back to us an interaction we have really missed.

Thi Le and Jia-Yen Lee, Anchovy, VIC

In NSW, don't be afraid to dine out in restaurants  

We are doing everything in our power to keep our diners and staff safe. We are taking what's going on at the moment extremely seriously; our livelihoods depend on it. There has been a very noticeable change in mood towards restaurants by the diners in the past two weeks, which I think is completely understandable. There has been a dramatic amount of last-minute cancellations or no-shows, putting huge pressure on businesses that are already extremely fragile. Not turning up to a reservation or calling an hour before we open is doing a lot of damage to our industry. None of us can afford to waste anything at the moment. 

Clayton Wells, Automata, NSW

Respect social distancing

In Sydney restaurants and once Melbourne restaurants open again, the best thing diners can do is respect social distancing and preventive measures. Check in accurately every time. If we all do that we will beat this virus down and be able to have a semi-normal life again. If your favourite Italian restaurant does a one-off doughnut sale, get behind them. If you have the means, spend big and tip big. If you don't then buy a coffee or a loaf of bread whenever you can. The hospitality industry is full of tenacious creative souls – we just need to support them. COVID-19 is seriously demoralising and draining. Chefs need to be reassured we have their backs. If we show them that, they will keep going. 

Mike Eggert, Totti's, NSW

Sunny and Ross Lusted from The Bridge Room.

'Add a stimulus package for restaurants': Sunny and Ross Lusted. Photo: Supplied

What can be done from an industry and government perspective?

Freeze the rent

There needs to be more effort put into a pandemic code of conduct for commercial leases. Landlords need to waive rent for commercial tenants until this passes if we're to survive. The empty tenancies will remain vacant for years otherwise. 

Sean McConnell, Rebel Rebel, ACT

Reintroduce Fringe Benefits Tax Deductions

Add a stimulus package for restaurants in addition to the re-introduction of fringe benefits tax deductions (making business entertaining viable again), and provide a tax incentive for businesses to dine at venues.

Ross and Sunny Lusted, Woodcut, NSW

Availability of a ready, skilled workforce

Restricting the numbers of short-term skilled migrants and skilled worker visas on the path to permanent residency will be dire for hospitality tourism and no doubt the death knell for many restaurants, especially in the regions. 

Alla Wolf-Tasker, Lake House restaurant, Daylesford, VIC

Dan Hunter of Brae Restaurant won the Best Chef of the Year award at last year's Australia's Top Restaurants, showing that even small sleepy towns can attract the best talent.

'JobKeeper needs to be maintained': Dan Hunter. Photo: Simon Schluter

Extend JobKeeper

JobKeeper needs to be maintained, rather than scaled back at the end of September, as planned. And it desperately needs to be extended to include visa holders, casual employees with less than 12 months' service and new employees who've come on board after March 30 this year, so that the financial responsibility for these people and their families isn't falling to small businesses who are already shouldering the double burden of being unable to trade and having to administer JobKeeper for those who are eligible. 

Dan Hunter and Julianne Bagnato, Brae, VIC

Relaxed regulations on public spaces

Relaxing regulations around outdoor seating/public spaces, trading hours, live music, and the continuation of packaged liquor sales would all help. 

Pasan Wijesena, Earls Juke Joint, NSW 

A zero strike policy for venues not following protocol

The government needs to penalise and scrutinise people and businesses that aren't following or enforcing protocol. This is such a serious issue and it's costing lives and livelihoods. I want them to take a zero strike policy and make the doubters take it seriously. As an industry we need to do what we always do: work f---ing hard, be flexible, watch out and support our friends and colleagues. 

Mike Eggert, Totti's, NSW

A united front from the industry

Our industry must be united and support the Restaurant and Catering Association as it deals with the government. Our politicians are listening but we must remain united. Government won't do it alone – we need to be creative and find a way ourselves, as creatively as possible. Finally we must be responsible as operators and stick to the rules. 

Chris Lucas, Lucas Group, VIC

Support small suppliers 

The past few months have  helped us reassess how we want to support small businesses. The most obvious  thing to do was to pay any outstanding bills and try not to have any outstanding bills moving forward. If this allows us to support a small farmer, supplier or producer we want to see on the other side of this nightmare, that is what we need to do to ensure the longevity of premium suppliers.

Thi Le and Jia-Yen Lee, Anchovy, VIC

Save our temporary workers

A giant part of our industry relies heavily on the temporary visa holders that help us to run our businesses and they can't just be left to fall through the cracks. They are so vital to the future of our industry and they should be looked after by our government. They are our family, our friends and valued colleagues and all should be shown a mutual respect. 

Clayton Wells, Automata, NSW

Wear your support on your sleeve

Can't get to your favourite restaurants or bars to lend support? Wear your support instead! Restaurant merchandise keeps a lot of people employed without huge overheads and when you're wearing it, you're spreading the word. Whether it's a tote, tea towel or tee, every little bit helps.

Attica T-shirts, tea towels, ceramics and hoodies, oh my! Wear your Good Food Guide three-hat fave with designs from local Melbourne artists such as Heesco, Ross Murray and Mysterious Al. attica.com.au

Beatrix Bakes Buy a cookbook, a tote bag and possibly even an actual cake from this Melbourne bakery. Their online cake shop is currently closed but you can still drop by if you're in that lucky 5km radius. beatrixbakes.com

Continental Deli It's the only hospitality T-shirt in the country served in a can. Which makes it perfect to post in a care pack to your Melbourne brethren. continentaldelicatessen.com.au

Double Deuce Haven't reserved a table at this 1970s inspired den of iniquity? They home deliver cocktails and T-shirts around Sydney. Hot damn. facebook.com/pages/category/Lounge/Double-Deuce-Lounge-

Earl's Juke Joint Pre-batched drinks are the big ticket item if you're not cocktailing in situ, but there are also plenty of tees for sale to show your pride. Note: designs change as regularly as the drinks. facebook.com/earlsjukejoint

Hector's Deli Here's one with the lot. The Richmond home of sandwiches you need to grab in two hands also sells tote bags, caps and staff tees in a range of designs. hectorsdeli.com.au

Hotel Hollywood Take home a classic staff tee from one of Sydney's best-loved pubs and wear it with pride. facebook.com/hotel.hollywood.sydney

Lune Love the croissants and need to express it through couture? Lune has your back (quite literally) with unisex T-shirts, socks, pins and tote bags. Why not get one of each? More is more, after all. lunecroissanterie.com

Made in the Shade Pre-batched cocktails aplenty are on offer here but they also sell very stylish tote bags. madeintheshadegroup.com.au

Smith and Daughters Vegan and need the world to know it? What better way to shout it from the rooftops than your very own hoody or tee from Melbourne's premier vegan restaurant? smithanddaughters.com

St Ali Not only is their coffee excellent, but they also offer some lustworthy take-home merch, including coffee mugs, tote bags and key dishes. stali.com.au

Two Good Feel good and look good by wrapping yourself in a Jac and Jack/Two Good sweatshirt and matching pants. Everything you purchase from the site goes straight to women in need. twogood.com.au