The Dolphin Hotel

Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore, has announced that free outdoor dining permits are to be extended until July 2023 in the City of Sydney LGA.

In a statement released on LinkedIn, Moore wrote that “The City has since approved over 440 outdoor dining areas, including 130 on-street approvals under the Alfresco Dining Program.”

“At the start of the pandemic we moved fast to help local hospitality businesses by waiving fees and reducing red tape to encourage alfresco dining,” Moore’s statement continued.

“In an evaluation survey in March this year, over 90 per cent of permit holders reported that the initiative was beneficial or crucial to their business, and 74 per cent said on-street dining spaces led them to employ additional staff.”

Australian Hotelier spoke to two City of Sydney based venues that had taken advantage of the permits over the last few years: The Fortune of War in the Rocks, and The Dolphin in Surry Hills.

Christian Denny, licensee of The Dolphin, explained the impact that outdoor dining had on his venue, and the wider hospitality community.  

“The introduction of the extra al fresco dining areas was a huge positive for the local community and hotel patrons,” Denny said.

“The whole of Crown St became re-energised and vibrant again after the many harsh months of restrictions and lockdown. Patrons relished the opportunity to dine outside, with the added sense of safety that came with being in a social, yet outdoor setting.”

Steven Speed is director of WDS Hotels, which operates the Fortune of War, and previously told Australian Hotelier how he’d used the al fresco space to increase the venue’s entertainment offering.

Fourteen months on, and Speed is convinced of the impact these spaces have had on his venue.

“Now we are back in full swing it’s hard to put into words how successful and important the outdoor space has been for our business, or maybe it [isn’t], it has kept our doors open!”

Having initially said that beverage sales in the areas limped behind food, Speed now believes that both have hit their stride.

“Both F&B have seen significant revenue lifts once we hit full steam mid-March this year, the numbers contributed by the outdoor area doubled our expectation from St Patricks Day right through to the end of Vivid late June,” Speed said.

Commenting on the extension of the Alfresco Dining program, Speed was equally effusive.

“It would be hard to justify not to consider permanent outdoor use of space across the City and the state,” Speed said.

“For one, there would be a public outcry from the general public they are that popular, we are seeing people that would normally come to the area once or twice per year for special occasions that have now become weekly regulars as they are enjoying the outdoor that much.

“People want to be outside, they feel safe and comfortable to do so, we are at the Gateway of one of the most beautiful cities in the world. You can sit in my outdoor area and look straight at the Sydney Harbour Bridge, that’s pretty hard to beat – but why has it taken a pandemic for this to finally happen?”

There was one dissenting voice, however, that of Paul Waterson, CEO and MD of Australian Venue Co, who raised concerns about the complexity of the application process in a comment under Moore’s statement.

“We have found the Sydney approval process very difficult to navigate unless you are in one of the approved precincts which has led to ‘have’s and have not’s.’ We applied for seven last year and all good [sic] knocked back. The year before all eight were rejected,” Waterson wrote.

“It’s not City of Sydney’s fault but the multiple agencies you have to navigate in Sydney has resulted in substantially less approvals than could [have] been.”

Nevertheless, Denny believes that the permits that have been granted, have helped to illuminate a path for the future of Sydney hospitality, saying: “By allowing these extended outdoor areas to emerge in the aftermath of Covid disruptions and lockdowns, it has enabled venues to prove that Sydneysiders can be trusted to embrace a broader al fresco lifestyle, more akin to the amazing dining culture that exists in many of the great cities of the world.”

“It feels as if Sydney has actually grown up a bit, and Sydneysiders can be trusted when allowed to enjoy the benefits of our many great venues and climate.”

Speed concurs, saying: “I took the punt to start live entertainment straight away to get entertainers back earning again and create activity at the Gateway to the Rocks.”

“It was a big punt […] but it paid off, it had an immediate impact on the business and created the perfect atmosphere for people that had been locked away at home for extended periods of time.”

See more, and have your say about outdoor dining areas here.