Hospitality venues in regional Victoria have opened the doors for dine-in trade for the first time since early August.

Regional Victoria has officially moved into stage three of the state’s reopening phase, having reached a 14-day average of 3.6 and the absence of mystery cases.

Venues will now be able to seat 50 customers outdoors and 10 customers per space indoors (max of two spaces), in line with social distancing requirements.

“Hospitality businesses will be able to serve patrons outdoors, with a cap of 50 seated patrons per venue, and an updated ‘two square metre’ density limit in place,” said Premier Daniel Andrews.

“Indoors, venues can open with a cap of 10 seated customers per space – with up to two spaces per venue – and in line with the existing ‘four square metre’ density rule.”

According to COVID safety measures, all tables need to be spaced at least 1.5m apart and cleaned between customers.

Operators will also need to request details from all patrons and keep them on file. A maximum of 10 people can be seated together.

The Premier says regional Victoria’s return to dine-in will “pave the way for Melbourne’s return to dining”, which will largely revolve around outdoor dining.

Eligible hospitality businesses will be able to access $5000 grants to cover equipment required for outdoor dining including furniture, umbrellas and coverings.

“We want as many people seated in as quick a time as possible, utilising public space that has never been on offer previously,” said Premier Andrews.

“We are going to see more and more tables on footpaths. Some of that foot traffic may move to the kerbside parking area where kerbside parking would no longer be allowed.”

But industry leaders are petitioning for a revised opening date, with Melbourne operators having to wait until 26 October to reopen for outdoor dining and late November for indoor dining according to the current timeline.

Close to 40 Melbourne culinary figures including Chris Lucas, Alla Wolf-Tasker, Andrew McConnell and Karen Martini have penned an open letter to the Premier with Change Victoria, requesting the reopening date be brought forward.

Proposed changes include seating 50 diners per enclosed space indoors and 50 diners per outdoor space with measures including sanitation, social distancing and record keeping implemented.

“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,” reads the letter.

“We’re also painting Melbourne pink – you’ll see the posters in venues and all over the city.”

The group has also issued a petition to the Victorian Legislative Council requesting the industry to reopen safely, which can be signed by Victorian residents.

Image credit: Lake House

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