Victoria’s cafe, pub, and restaurant owners are rejoicing after Premier Daniel Andrews announced they will be able to open to 20 diners from June 1.
- From June 1, hospitality venues that serve food will be able to seat 20 patrons under strict conditions
- Restrictions on spaces within pubs and clubs, such as public bars and gaming areas, will remain in place throughout June, as will restrictions on food courts
- Some said not allowing bars to open meant Melbourne’s music-city status was “under serious threat”
But bars and pubs that serve only drinks will not be allowed to reopen, disappointing hundreds of business owners within Melbourne’s nightlife scene.
Director of Sixty-One Group, Steve Rowley, which owns four cafes in Melbourne’s inner south-east, said Sunday’s announcement was the first step towards the group stemming significant financial losses from the coronavirus restrictions.
“To have a well-structured pathway back to normality is exciting for both the ownership group and the staff,” Mr Rowley said.
Mr Rowley said the group had lost about 85 to 90 per cent of its revenue since cafes were forced to only offer takeaway.
The group had to lay-off about 50 per cent of its staff.
Mr Rowley said JobKeeper had been “a Godsend” for the company to continue trading.
“It’s really helped us keep ticking along, if JobKeeper stays around we should be able to get out of this.”
While Mr Rowley welcomed the easing of restrictions on June 1, he said being able to serve 20 dine-in customers was still not enough for the company to get back on its feet.
“We model off 100 people plus in each venue, but this allows us to see what 20 people will look like over the next two weeks. We can start testing a restricted menu and building back up.”
He commended the Premier on the Government’s plan to slowly allow venues to open up.
“We can start putting in hygiene practices now and those sorts of measures that we wouldn’t have had pre-COVID. The ability to test and learn that before full capacity is the real attribute of this plan and something we’ll be working towards as a group so we can scale up without making heavy losses.”
Melbourne’s pubs will also be able to open their doors to patrons.
Paddy O’Sullivan is the chief executive of Australian Hotels Association Victoria, the peak body for pubs in the state, and said it was “a great day”.
Mr O’Sullivan said the group had been working with the Government “on a roadmap to recovery”.
“We will get our staff back on the rosters and look forward to opening our doors on the first of June to get business back,” he said.
“We will make sure we have safe environments for our customers and staff to make sure we can mitigate risks going forward.
“We won’t be throwing the doors open, we’ll be doing it in a managed way to mitigate the risk.
‘With 20 patrons you definitely won’t make money’
Paul Waterson is the chief executive of the Australian Venue Company, which owns 140 venues across Australia including 42 in Victoria.
“We’re really excited to get that date, we’ve been waiting for a couple of weeks hoping to hear positive news. Even though it’s only 20 patrons it’s good to start somewhere,” Mr Waterson said.
“With 20 patrons you definitely won’t make money, but I think it’s important to give a focal point for the community to come back to the pub, get our staff back to work, so if the rule is 20 we’ll open on that basis.”
Mr Waterson said tables would be 1.5 metres apart to comply with health regulations and there would be “a lot of staff training ahead”.
He said July would be a great month when 100 patrons would be allowed inside, allowing live music and trivia nights to return.
“That will be great because that will be getting close to normal operation,” he said.
“A lot of people don’t think of all the people who work in pubs like the security guards, like the musicians and like the other entertainers, so it will be good to get everyone back to work.”
‘If you’re a small venue that doesn’t have food, you’re not included in this’
Maz Salt is on the board of the Australian Venues Association, which represents independent venues with a strong focus on music venues, including festivals.
He said while the easing of restrictions on hospitality venues was a great sign for business in Victoria, he feared bars and live music venues were being left behind.
Sunday’s announcement did not include venues that only served drinks.
Public bar areas of a venue will also be unable to open on June 1, and gaming areas and food courts will remain closed until further notice.
Mr Salt said that was a rough realisation for his members.
“I need to demonstrate my understanding of the terrible situation that we’re all in, and the marvellous job that our health authorities and politicians are doing in this time of crisis,” he said.
“It’s an announcement that I don’t think really takes into account the scale of hospitality.”
Mr Salt said Sunday’s announcement demonstrated Melbourne’s nightlife scene had been left “completely and utterly devastated” by coronavirus without reprieve from the State Government.
“I have a premise in the city that’s an open-air venue. We don’t sell food, it’s not a nightclub, it’s just a small bar,” he said.
“I don’t think we can open. If you’re a small venue that doesn’t have food, you’re not included in this.”
He said if there wasn’t “some urgent action taken” then Melbourne’s nightlife scene was “in danger of irreparable loss”.
“The Government’s prioritizing people based on something other than science. I don’t like that, what’s the difference between people coming in for a drink and people coming in for food?”
Mr Salt said he knew of two business owners who had taken their lives because of the toll coronavirus had on their businesses.
“Their financial losses have just ruined their lives,” he said.
“The Government’s prioritising people based on something other than science. I don’t like that, what’s the difference between people coming in for a drink and people coming in for food?”
A spokesperson from the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions said the Government was “backing live music venues with support under the Commercial Tenancy Relief Scheme and dedicated support available for venues that are part of larger groups”.
Under the scheme, businesses participating in JobKeeper with an annual turnover of under $50 million are not allowed to be evicted for not paying rent.
It also allows eligible businesses to negotiate rental relief with a stipulation that 50 per cent of the relief is a waiver, with remaining rent deferred.
The Government has also made $40 million available from the Business Support Fund to licenced venues with an individual annual turnover of up to $50 million, but who are not covered by the Commercial Tenancy Relief Scheme due to being part of larger group, for rent relief.
“Venues have also benefitted from payroll tax refunds and other grants, and rebates for liquor licence fees,” the spokesman said.