Turning to takeaway not an automatic option for Victoria's hard-hit hospitality industry

For Mister Bianco owner-chef Joseph Vargetto the timing is especially terrible.
For Mister Bianco owner-chef Joseph Vargetto the timing is especially terrible. Photo: Eddie Jim

As Melbourne readies itself for lockdown number four, restaurateurs are counting the costs and trying to muster the energy to put food in boxes again.

"There's no good time for a lockdown but why on earth do ours seem to come at just the wrong time?" laments Joseph Vargetto, owner of Mister Bianco and Massi. He was about to turn Mister Bianco in Kew into a Sicilian beach for a Good Food Month event next Tuesday.

"Luckily I made the call yesterday and called off $4500 worth of landscaping, but I still have a fridge and a coolroom full of food ready for the weekend," he says. He'll pivot (again) to takeaway. "We are well-versed in doing this by now," he says. "It's not like turning the Queen Mary." Not that it's great. "It's a pain in the arse, it really hurts, it's that rollercoaster ride," says Vargetto.

Ashleigh Dyer of Hemingway's Wine Room will not be turning to takeaways this time.
Ashleigh Dyer of Hemingway's Wine Room will not be turning to takeaways this time.  Photo: Christopher Hopkins

Ashleigh Dyer owns Hemingway's Wine Room in East Melbourne, which won't do takeaway this time. "We did the numbers and unless it's a three-week lockdown, it's not worth it for us to buy the packaging and do the marketing and flip our menu," she says.

That means food in the bin and staffing hours cut. It hurts more because the restaurant was starting to build momentum. "It takes us a couple of months to recover from a lockdown and get the bookings back and we were just getting on a roll," she says. "It's a shocker."

The only silver lining is that reservations are strong for tonight. "We have seen a big uptake in bookings for the last hurrah," she says. "It will be gluttony for the win."

"It's a pain in the arse, it really hurts, it's that rollercoaster ride."

Joseph Vargetto

Many operators are frustrated about perceived failures that have led to yet another lockdown. "Once again the Victorian public is paying the price for the incompetence of our government," says Haley Aldred from Bendigo's El Gordo. "Where is the ownership of their problems? Will there be financial compensation for small businesses? I am so tired."

There's also some frustration about QR codes. "The fact that it has taken so long to get one uniform QR code out there is ridiculous," says Zac Poulier, owner of Stillwater At Crittenden on the Mornington Peninsula.

"I was in South Australia a couple of weeks ago and every store, supermarket, hospitality venue you went into made sure you checked in. Even getting off the plane through the airport you were checked to make sure you had downloaded the SA government app."

Dave Mackintosh owns Pope Joan in the city. "This situation exactly exposes the vulnerability of the community to a pandemic and reinforces the urgency with which people need to get vaccinated and the federal government needs to take control of quarantine," he says.

Mackintosh thinks the current lockdown is another reminder for customers and venues to come back out and follow all the rules. "We must do the right thing by QR check-ins to make the contact tracers' job as easy and as quick as possible," he says.