Ask any operator in Melbourne how much revenue is down compared to last year and it’s likely you’ll get the same answer — at least 90 per cent. For some, it’s 100 per cent. Others have successfully made the switch to takeaway, however profits have still taken a hit.
The staggering figures are why many are calling for industry to reopen sooner than planned under the Victorian Government’s roadmap to reopening. Currently, metropolitan operators will open for predominantly outdoor dining with a patron cap.
“For everyone, I think 2020 has been, well, it has been horrific,” says Ben Logan, manager at Di Stasio Citta in Melbourne’s CBD. “But the second lockdown [in Melbourne] has exacerbated that. The difficulty in Victoria is not knowing and, to some degree, not understanding. The hospitality industry as a whole is supportive [of the fact] Victoria needs to fight COVID-19. Nobody is suggesting we should open everything tomorrow, but with the further decreases in case numbers, we don’t understand why we can’t start having a real conversation about indoor and outdoor dining.”
Di Stasio Restaurant’s owners Mallory Wall and Rinaldo Di Stasio are just two of the industry stalwarts that have signed a new campaign calling on the Victorian Government to reconsider the timeline of its roadmap.
The It’s Time campaign — which has also been signed by Alla Wolf-Tasker AM, Andrew McConnell, Karen Martini, Chris Lucas, Scott Pickett and Frank Van Haandel — calls for a fast-tracked recovery that includes indoor trading with a maximum of 50 patrons per enclosed space; observing social distancing; density requirements; contact recording and appropriate sanitation. Outdoor trading with a maximum of 50 patrons per outdoor area; observing social distancing; density requirements; contact recording and appropriate sanitation are also part of the petition.
With the Victorian Government is currently working on plans to ease the transition to outdoor dining, operators such as Logan are concerned the model alone won’t suit many businesses.
“Caterina’s down the road from us, for example, is an underground restaurant,” says Logan. “What are they going to do? They’re talking about closing roads off and putting [events & pop-ups] in parks — you need people who know what they’re doing for that. Who’s giving the ideas about how outdoor dining will work in a park? Everyone knows how cool Melbourne’s laneways are, but you can’t have a whole business model based on the weather here.”
The It’s Time cohort wants indoor trading to resume before the flagged date of 23 November, arguing transmission hasn’t been prevalent in cafes, restaurants, pubs and bars, which already operate with stringent hygiene procedures in place and strict contact tracing protocols.
Logan says financial support in the form of grants and payroll tax refunds are welcome, but aren’t a long-term solution for businesses, their employees and suppliers. “We’re some of the lucky ones because we got our staff on JobKeeper,” he says. “But the rest of the industry has people on JobSeeker and some of the visa holders are lost — a lot of them returned to their country of origin.”
The sooner the industry can reopen, the sooner everyone gets back to work. “If you get restaurants open, a farmer that hasn’t been able to sell produce for x number of months can start selling product again and the delivery driver that picks it up starts working again,” says Logan.
Industry leaders are, of course, concerned about the safety of their employees and patrons. However, operators are frustrated with the lack of consultation from the state government. “We want to work together,” says Logan. “Initially, the feeling was, ‘what on earth is going on?’ With It’s Time, high-profile restaurateurs and people that are concerned about their future and their businesses in general have come together and said, ‘let’s work together with the government on a realistic outcome for the hospitality industry’, which has been utterly decimated since March.
“‘It’s Time’ doesn’t mean tomorrow. It means it’s time to start communicating, it’s time to start working in a collective way to be able to facilitate economic rebuilding within the state of Victoria.
November is still a long time away. We’ve lost everything this year. We have to keep fighting because Melbourne will lose its character if it loses all these iconic restaurants.”
As part of the It’s Time campaign, 37 hospitality professionals have penned an open letter to Premier Daniel Andrews and created an e-petition to Victorian Legislative Council.
An Open Letter to The Hon Daniel Andrews, Premier of Victoria
Business owners and workers in the hospitality industry understand the need for caution when it comes to Covid-19. We do not take the health of Victorians lightly. But we believe the industry can safely reopen sooner than this road map specifies. We want to save jobs and livelihoods, to mitigate the negative impact on mental health, and help bolster the Victorian economy during this dire time.
Hospitality is more than cafes, bars, restaurants and pubs. It encompasses farmers, fishers, bakers, growers, butchers and artisan suppliers, as well as stallholders, wholesalers, truck drivers, and factory and warehouse workers. Our industry is a major contributor to the Victorian economy, and more importantly, it’s a cornerstone of the character of our state. When tourists talk about Melbourne and Victoria, they talk about our cafe culture, pubs, fine diners, markets and wineries, which are among the best in the world. Our hospitality industry should be revered as a state treasure.
We have complied with government training and guidelines for Covid-19. We respect the care that has been put into plans that limit the spread of coronavirus, such as the accredited Covid-19 officers and contact tracing. We want to work with the government and public-health experts to control cluster outbreaks and protect our state. We are committed to best practices. But we feel it’s time the Victorian government actually engaged with the industry to develop a realistic road map specific to hospitality, in order for us to reopen safely and allow our businesses to recover. We believe the current timeline is too strict. States such as NSW are reopening safely and monitoring clusters effectively with thorough contact tracing.
We are calling on the Victorian government to make the following accommodations earlier:
A maximum of 50 patrons per enclosed space, observing social distancing, density requirements, contact recording and appropriate sanitisation.
Maximum of 50 patrons per outdoor area, observing social distancing, density requirements, contact recording and appropriate sanitisation.
We are partnering with Change Victoria on this campaign, which calls for hospitality to be “unlocked” and encourages Victorians to take a selfie in front of their favourite local cafe, bar, restaurant or pub and post it on social media with the hashtag #ItsTime. We’re also painting Melbourne pink – you’ll see the Posters in venues and all over the city.
Alla Wolf-Tasker AM, Lakehouse and Dairy Flat Farm
Andrew Joy and Travis Howe, Carlton Wine Room
Andrew McConnell, Trader House Restaurants
Cam Jackson, Nevermind Bar
Con Christopoulos. European Group
Karen Martini and Michael Sapountsis, Mr Wolf
Chris Lucas, Lucas Restaurants
Fiona Perkins & Michael Bacash
Frank and Xavier Dimattina, Il Gambero and Bluetrain
Frank Van Haandel, Stokehouse
Geoff Lindsay, Dandelion
Hannah Green, Etta
Hayden Burbank, Morris Jones
Jason Chang, Calia
Jean-Paul Prunetti, France Soir
Julian Gerner, Morgan’s Sorrento
Kate and Mykal Bartholomew, Adam D’Sylva, Tonka & Coda.
Kathy, Jacques, Natalie, Edouard and Antoine Reymond, L’Hôtel Gitan and Bistro Gitan Lino Scidone, La Camera
Liz Rodriguez and Guy Grossi, Grossi Restaurants
Mallory Wall and Rinaldo Di Stasio, Di Stasio Restaurants
Matteo Pignatelli, Matteo’s Restaurant
Michael Thiele, Hardimans Hotel
Nick Stanton, Leonardo’s Pizza Palace
Rene and Jason McConnell, Dave Parker, San Telmo Group
Paul Dimattina, Lamaro’s Hotel
Paul Olynyk, Public House Group
Paul Wilson, Mr Wilson
Rabih Yanni, Botanical Hotel
Scott Pickett, Pickett & Co
Teague Ezard, Gingerboy Tom Walker, Bleakhouse Hotel