'Let's cut through the red tape and make it happen': Melbourne restaurant owners call for greater government support

"The 'woe is me' attitude does my head in," says Shane Deila.
"The 'woe is me' attitude does my head in," says Shane Deila. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui

In March, Shane Delia was a chef and restaurateur. Now he's a tech entrepreneur too, having launched premium delivery platform Providoor in June

"I started cooking to be a cook," he says. "I never thought I'd be running a web company. It's the furthest thing from cooking." 

Like many Melbourne restaurateurs, Delia is desperate to open when it's safe to do so. In the meantime, hospitality professionals are developing constructive ideas to ensure their businesses can rebuild and thrive in a COVID-safe Victoria.

Delia created Providoor, a delivery platform selling finish-at-home meals from Melbourne restaurants including ...
Delia created Providoor, a delivery platform selling finish-at-home meals from Melbourne restaurants including Supernormal (pictured). Photo: Jo McGann

"The 'woe is me' attitude does my head in," says Delia. "Don't wait for people to do things for you. Do it for yourself. Evolve your thinking."

Even with the best restaurant business plans, Delia says government support will still be vital for Victoria's hospitality industry to survive the pandemic. He's calling for tax changes, industrial reform and direct relief, including the extension of JobKeeper. 

"Restaurants have been restricted by increasing operational costs for a long time," he says. "That plus COVID restrictions means hospitality needs support" 

Australian Venue Co. chief executive Paul Waterson outside the group's Duke of Wellington pub in Melbourne's CBD.
Australian Venue Co. chief executive Paul Waterson outside the group's Duke of Wellington pub in Melbourne's CBD. Photo: Eddie Jim

Government assistance should spring from an acknowledgement that hospitality is a big employer. "We give a home to young people, new migrants, people like my father who arrived here and became a waiter," says Delia. "We are the birthplace of the fair go but we need a fair go, too."

Restaurateur Hannah Green welcomed the announcement from Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp on Thursday that the city's footpaths and streets will be transformed into open-air dining areas.

"We'll be lucky if we're inside restaurants before November," says the owner of Etta in Brunswick East. "So let's get councils to help create socially distanced sanctuaries in streets, lanes and cul de sacs."

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Green has already been in touch with the City of Moreland about expanding outdoor eating. She's approached neighbours in the alley behind Etta and is brainstorming ways to turn outdoor dining into positive community events. 

"We can use local nurseries to provide the greenery and we could have musicians doing outdoor gigs," she says. "I don't see why we can't cut through the red tape and make it happen."

Paul Waterson is the chief executive of Australian Venue Co, which owns 158 pubs around Australia. He has watched the UK's Eat Out to Help Out scheme with interest. 

Launched in August to boost the UK's struggling hospitality sector, the scheme has seen the government pay for 50 per cent of a customer's bill (with a discount of up to £10 per person) for meals eaten at a cafe, restaurant or pub on Monday through to Wednesday.

"It's been exceptional," says Waterson. "People were booking tables the week before." 

He's also been impressed with MyDarwin, a Northern Territory initiative which offered $40 worth of vouchers to anyone over 18 to use for in-person spending. "It was really excellent," says Waterson. "It gave the city a great vibe when it reopened."

What we need - hospitality industry leaders speak

Shane Delia, Maha

"We need support in terms of tax reform, especially fringe benefits tax and payroll tax. We need the continuation of stimulus packages. JobKeeper needs to be maintained until patronage is back at a sustainable level. While there are restrictions, we need support." 

Mallory Wall, Di Stasio

"We want clear information and guidelines and less red tape. We've had 13 visits from authorities in the past three months at our two restaurants in the city and St Kilda. Not once did anyone ask if we were doing OK – if we needed help in educating our staff. Not a single restaurateur wants to do the wrong thing but we need clarity to help everyone get to a safe place together." 

Paul Waterson, Australian Venue Co 

"There will be three stages. We need to build confidence and let people know that it's safe to come back to restaurants and pubs. We need to build capacity for outdoor dining, whether that's carparks, footpaths or parkland. And we need to stimulate demand, like the UK's Eat Out To Help Out campaign."

Hannah Green, Etta Dining

"I'm inspired by what New York did in June, putting tables on the streets and building bollards out of greenery. Social distancing will be with us for a long time so let's create outdoor sanctuaries which allow people to maintain distance."  

Jason Chang, Calia 

"We want to do everything we can to keep our customers and staff safe but I think we need to rethink the restrictions on numbers in restaurants. If 20 people can be in a small room, why can't 30 people, let's say, be in a room that's larger? My Chadstone restaurant has a dining room that's 500 square metres. Surely I should be able to seat more than 20 patrons in stage two?"

Chris Lucas, ChinChin

"If you layer up all the compliance issues at local, state and federal levels, you probably wouldn't open a restaurant. We need reform to encourage people to create. There's a balance: we don't want cowboys throwing up restaurants but we don't want to hold back the next young person trying to open a cafe. 

"We also need to put the welcome mat back out for temporary visa holders. If we want a multi-ethnic tapestry of restaurants which makes us one of the best food destinations in the world, we need to look after the visa workers that stayed and the government has to realise skilled migration is a pillar of our industry. If I wanted to open another sushi restaurant today, I couldn't do it."