The recent easing of COVID-19 restrictions across Queensland has seen many businesses within the hospitality sector reopen their doors to the public. Yesterday’s announcement from the Queensland Premier to introduce Stage 2 easing of restrictions a fortnight earlier has meant that as of midday today, there is an increase to 20 patrons allowed to dine in cafes and restaurants.
However, for the hard-hit restaurant industry, reopening does not come without its challenges as they prepare to adapt and navigate business in the new era of social distancing.
“Hospitality and Tourism were the first to be impacted by the virus, so it has been a long and tedious battle to keep our livelihoods, as well as the livelihoods of our staff,” says Townsville restaurateur Matt Cause, who is the owner of City Lane’s Shaw & Co.
After the temporary closure of his restaurant during the lockdown period, Mr Cause was forced to think of creative solutions to help his business stay afloat. Like many restaurant owners he turned to take away services to keep income flowing and is now pivoting his business modelling due to the early announcement of the number increasing to 20 guests.
“We initially opened our doors for the 10 people, as there is the community expectation and a need to socialise after the extended lock down period. We believe that we owe it to our community and customer base to open and provide some social normality.”
“As a company, we were strongly prepared for Stage 2. We have been pushing through various channels for the consideration to begin Stage 2 restrictions earlier than originally planned by the Queensland Government.”
“After being so frustrated from the months before where we would adapt our business models and strategies one day, only to have those plans invalidated the next with updated changes, we learned to prepare earlier and look into dynamics for future situations more.”
The announcement of Stage 2 has meant newly introduced measures such as time limits and pre bookings that were in place for the 10-patron limit are no longer required. However, restaurants still must adapt the dine in experience to align with State requirements on social distancing.
“So far, some of the measures Shaw & Co have in place will remain such as increased hygiene awareness. We have composed management plans and floor plans for our venue that meet all the social distancing and government floor space requirements. We will continue to take all of the COVID-19 precautions for staff, sanitations and general preparation applications recommended by the World Health Organisation and the Queensland Government.”
While Shaw & Co. are one of many businesses eagerly embracing Stage 2 restrictions being brought forward, other restaurants such as The Courtyard, also located in City Lane, now feel under pressure to make decisions.
“Whilst Stage 2 is a step forward, they are still stringent restrictions,” explains owner Jamie Fitzpatrick, who decided to keep The Courtyard closed due to the stark economic reality the 10-patron limit imposed.
“The real challenges for businesses are yet to come. The reality is that businesses could be facing trading restrictions for some time. We need all levels of government to look at initiatives that allow business to be sustainable in the new environment, including the removal of insurance, energy and labour cost”.
“Where possible, businesses have chosen to open up and do the right thing where there is demand.”
“It is hard for businesses within the hospitality sector to make money in the current environment, especially compared to what they were making before the outbreak, as you have so many tough restrictions and virtually no foot traffic.”
“As The Courtyard is more of a casual dining experience, it requires higher foot traffic and higher visitation which is impossible with the new restrictions. For restaurants that are opening, many are doing pre bookings, so no one is walking around.”
“However, with Stage 2 being brought forward we will likely open next weekend pending further exemptions on June 5. At the moment there is a lot of uncertainty which is the issue for businesses as we are unable to make decisions.”
The roadmap Australia has planned to follow out of COVID-19 is well underway, and with Stage 2 being introduced earlier than expected, many are holding out hope that later stages will also result in an earlier timeline.
However, Mr Fitzpatrick notes that the hospitality sector has experienced such a dramatic drop in revenue that many are unsure when, or if, the industry will fully recover from the financial hardships of recent months.
“Businesses may be open in principle, but they are not necessarily open in practice,” Mr Fitzpatrick continues.
“The bottom line is that while restrictions are in place and nation-wide travel is banned, businesses are not going to be sustainable.”
“There is no business in the industry that is modelled to operate at 30-40 per cent capacity, which is what is currently happening due to the circumstances and the new social distancing measures.”
Mr Cause agrees it is a challenging time, but is taking an optimistic approach.
“We are embracing the changes as we begin our path back to social normality, and although there is still a large economic hill to climb, we are now at least at base camp,” concludes Mr Cause.
“There is light at the end of the tunnel, however, there is still a long way to go.”
By Georgie Desailly for BDmag