What Victoria's reopening road map means for restaurants

Chris Lucas says the decision to continue restrictions is tantamount to a death sentence.
Chris Lucas says the decision to continue restrictions is tantamount to a death sentence. Photo: Eamon Gallagher

Premier Daniel Andrews' plan for the easing of restrictions shows a slow road for hospitality businesses in metro Melbourne.

The first two steps will see hospitality businesses offering takeaway and delivery-only services. The third step, slated for October 26, is reliant on an average of five cases or fewer a day over a 14-day period. Once this threshold is reached, businesses will be allowed to resume dine-in trade, but mostly in outdoor settings. Venues are unlikely to serve diners indoors until November 23. 

The premier says discussions with industry bodies are ongoing. "[But] we can't have thousands of Victorians moving around to go for dinner at a pub or restaurant, otherwise we won't be reopen for long". 

The kitchen garden at Dunkeld's Royal Mail Hotel is bursting with spring produce.
The kitchen garden at Dunkeld's Royal Mail Hotel is bursting with spring produce. Photo: Supplied

Andrews says the state government will work with local governments to help cafes, bars and restaurants arrange more outdoor tables, with more announcements to come.

The premier says hospitality will look different in the months ahead. "We may close parking, have dividers, we may move a significant amount of activity outside the venue but it will still be able to happen. And I think we can make that work.

"There are a number of cities in the world that are doing that, and that is what we are focused on at the moment."

Chef Michael Ryan from Provenance in Beechworth remains optimistic about hospitality bouncing back.
Chef Michael Ryan from Provenance in Beechworth remains optimistic about hospitality bouncing back. Photo: Peter Charlesworth

Restaurateur Chris Lucas, of the Lucas Group, says the decision to keep restrictions in place until at least October 26 is tantamount to a death sentence. 

"Two months and three weeks until we can reopen for internal dining, and then only for 20 to 50 patrons in the busiest time of year. This compares to NSW, which has a cap of 300 patrons with what would be similar low infections."

According to Lucas, whose restaurants include Chin Chin, Kisume and Baby, takeaway trade equates to about 10 per cent of dine-in revenue.

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Hannah Green, of Etta in Brunswick East, says having outdoor dining as the sole source of income is going to be tough, given Melbourne's temperamental weather.

"We are going to need ongoing JobKeeper at the level we have to keep our staff employed and continued stimulus packages in line with the restrictions we are facing until we can get back to a sustainable level of guests," says Green.

Today's roadmap news is little better for regional hospitality venues. Like metropolitan restaurants, they are restricted to serving takeaways and deliveries and will be able to open for outdoor seated dining when the daily average number of cases in the past 14 days is less than five. 

Robin Wickens, from Wickens at Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld, says during the first lockdown the restaurant was delivering its menu in boxes to Melbourne customers once or twice a week.

During the second lockdown, they shut the restaurant to focus their energy on the hotel's vast kitchen gardens ahead of an expected spring reopening. The garden is bursting with unusual vegetables such as salsify and has a bumper crop of broad beans, cauliflower and broccoli on the way.

"Now, we'll be into tomato season by the time we open again," says Wickens.

The chef says he'll be conferring with the team before deciding what to do next. Outdoor dining isn't an option for the fine diner, although the hotel can do limited outdoor dining at its Parker Street Project venue. 

Midnight Starling's Steven Rogers says with a local population of 7500, it was difficult to mount a business case for serving takeaway during the two lockdowns. And outdoor dining will not be viable in Kyneton, where it's been known to snow during winter.

"How can you take bookings for limited outdoor seating when it's based on what the weather's doing?" 

He's drawing positives from the warming weather, and the sight of the 2000 garlic bulbs he planted during the first lockdown getting closer to harvest.

In Beechworth, Provenance's Michael Ryan remains optimistic that many restaurants will be able to bounce back once COVID case numbers fall.

In the seven weeks between the two lockdowns, Ryan says his adjoining accommodation venue was the busiest it had been in 11 years. 

"When people in Melbourne can get out, they'll be busting to get in a car and go somewhere."