Restaurant restrictions are lifting but will Melbourne still dine out?

Ben Shewry with some of the dishes on the takeaway menu at Attica restaurant.
Ben Shewry with some of the dishes on the takeaway menu at Attica restaurant.  Photo: Eddie Jim

Premier Daniel Andrews has announced that from June 1, Victorians will be able to dine out again. The response? A resounding huzzah - with caveats. As part of the staged reopening of restaurants, bars and cafes, the first round will start with a maximum capacity of 20 patrons in-venue.

From June 22, the capacity will be 50 patrons and from mid-July, most venues should reopen with 100 max capacity. Stringent measures will still be taken when it comes to physical distancing, with each diner requiring four square metres of space, with tables spread 1.5 metres apart.

Many restaurants large and small will still need to offer an at-home dining experience if they expect to open the doors. Some restaurants will choose to remain closed until stage three because of the expenses involved in operating a full bells and whistles experience.

Others want to be able to continue servicing restaurant patrons who may still feel nervous about eating out in restaurants but still want to have a fine dining experience in their own homes.

For restaurateurs in this position, it's about maintaining a connection with their regulars and keeping the idea of their restaurants alive.

Lifelong friends Lynley Walters and Cathy Danaher have been dining together in Melbourne's best restaurants each year on the same date, for 45 years. This year, due to the pandemic, they were forced to eat at home. But that didn't stop them recreating a restaurant experience in isolation.

Lynley Walters and Cathy Danaher have kept their birthday traditions for more than 45 years.

Lynley Walters and Cathy Danaher have kept their birthday traditions for more than 45 years. Photo: Cathy Danaher

The pair ordered a three-course meal from Ripponlea's multi-award winning three-hat restaurant Attica. They laid out crockery, napery and stemware and made Danaher's husband go on a two-hour walk with a podcast while the pair had their annual dinner date just as they always did.

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Attica has been one of the most proactive restaurants on the Melbourne dining scene when it comes to innovation. They not only pivoted with merchandise, soup kitchens and take-home meal options, but this Friday, they're launching a $380 dine-at-home degustation.

 

"Our customers have been ordering combinations of other meals already and want more so it's a natural thing for us to offer," says chef-owner Ben Shewry. "Attica was one of the first tasting menu only restaurants in Australia and with all we have learned about delivering restaurant quality food to people's homes over the past eight weeks we now have the experience and knowledge to present this menu."

Others restaurants, such as Amaru - which currently holds two hats in the Good Food Guide - will be ceasing their at-home tasting menus as soon as the calender flips over to June 1. Currently, they're executing roughly 40 almost-ready meals per day. Chef Clinton McIver says they're lucky to be breaking even at the beginning of each week, making a third of their normal revenue. "The margins are completely different - I would never do this as a full time business model." Is McIver relieved to go back to regular service? "Yes."