When Victorian restaurants begin reopening from next week under strict social distancing measures, venue owners are calling for customers to play by the rules too. That means arriving on time, leaving when required, and letting the restaurant know if there is no intention to show up for a booking.
"Traffic can't be an excuse for arriving late these days," says Peter Gunn, owner-chef of two-hatted Collingwood restaurant Ides.
Gunn says his dining room is "already stacked" with bookings after Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced the state's restaurants, cafes and pubs will be able to cater for up to 20 customers at a time from June 1.
In order to maximise guest numbers and make a profit, a minimum spend of $120 per person is required for Ides' four-course menu, and early sittings are limited to two hours. A late arrival can be a major disruption for the kitchen and service team.
"We're considering making reminder calls to customers," says Gunn. "Instead of phoning a party if they're 15 minutes late, it might be better to call guests half an hour beforehand to see how they're tracking.
"However, with a reduced tasting menu and number of seats, we will also have less staff. Extra steps such as confirmation calls put a strain on service, especially when combined with all the additional hygiene measures we're taking. It's not going to be easy coming back."
Christian McCabe is the co-owner of CBD wine bars Embla and Lesa. He says restaurants will need to be "pretty honest" with customers about their expectations while venues are operating at a reduced capacity.
"If there are only 20 seats, you can't sit there for hours on one glass of wine - you have to spend money. We don't care if people want to eat a lot of food and drink nothing, or buy a lot of great wine and only order a few snacks, as long as they pay their way."
McCabe believes most people will understand what is required of them as customers as Melbourne emerges from the coronavirus crisis.
"The fact all restaurants were on the brink of collapse when the shutdown was announced shows that if we're trying to fleece people out of their money, we've collectively done a terrible job of it."
At Masani Italian Dining, sommelier Kara Maisano says it is important guests don't feel rushed when the Carlton restaurant reopens from June 1.
"It has always been a very bespoke experience at the restaurant, so we want people to visit us and feel welcomed. If they want to take more than two hours to leisurely enjoy the restaurant, then we'll try our best to work with that."
In South Yarra, Matilda chef Scott Pickett is celebrating his restaurant's second birthday on June 1 with a one-off $250 luxury menu featuring crab, caviar, local wagyu and fresh truffle, before switching to a set-price menu of up to four courses for $120.
"It's going to be a big challenge to make the restaurant profitable with 20 customers at a time," he says.
"JobKeeper helps to soften the blow, but at Matilda, only four of my 15 chefs qualify for the payment because we have always supported a lot of international workers. If everyone qualified, then maybe you could catch up on bills and put a little cash aside."
NSW restaurants reopened for 10 diners at a time on May 15 and many people have been celebrating at their favourite venues throughout the state. However, several Sydney restaurateurs are also warning that prepaid bookings will become the norm after a large number of costly "no-shows" in the past week. Diners failing to arrive for their booking has long plagued the industry but with reduced restaurant capacities, every no-show is a critical loss of revenue.
Gunn says he has no plans to introduce a prepaid booking policy at Ides anytime soon.
"That might work for ultra-premium venues around the world, but we're a small, independent restaurant. It doesn't feel right to demand $100 from someone up front. We've also found that by hosting the odd prepaid event in the past, you don't get a lot of extra spend on drinks and additional menu items.
"Right now, all we want to do is reopen and treat our guests to the best time possible."
Where to eat in Melbourne from next week: a selection of the best restaurants reopening from The Good Food Guide 2020
Carlton Wine Room
A neighbourhood bistro that totally gets the neighbourhood. Only the self-hating would leave without ordering a rum baba. A la carte from June 1.
172-174 Faraday Street, Carlton, 03 9347 2626
Andrew McConnell's slick all-day dining institution with a relaxed vibe and focus on seasonal produce. A la carte for breakfast and lunch, and a $65 kitchen menu for dinner from June 1.
45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, 03 9650 1445
Scott Pickett's northside fine diner with nude tables and all the niceties for special occasions. Four-courses for $90 from June 2.
243-245 High Street, Northcote, 03 9489 4609
Modern Japanese served in an oasis of serenity where honey-gold carpet offsets the arrestingly austere effect of supersized white paper lanterns. Five courses for $120 or seven courses for $150 from June 4.
121 Lygon Street, Carlton, 03 9349 2223
A beautifully restored Art Deco hotel with the family of renowned chef Jacques Reymond at the helm. A la carte from June 1.
32 Commercial Road, Prahran, 03 9999 0990