NSW pubs have welcomed improved trade from the Dine and Discover scheme, but say long-term strategies are still needed to ensure industry recovery.
Publicans have noted encouraging signs of improved trade since NSW residential adults were given four single-use $25 vouchers for food and entertainment at registered COVID-Safe hospitality venues via the Service NSW app on 19 March.
Port Macquarie-based Flower Hotels managing director Alistair Flower said since joining, he has seen a considerable improvement of trade in the last financial period.
“We have seen a significant increase of business in the last period. Better than pre-COVID levels. This on the back of local tourism and certainly stimulus packages like the Dine & Discover vouchers have worked well for our business,” he told Australian Hotelier.
Flower Hotels’ six venues have had collectively more than 6000 vouchers claimed since the start of the program, totalling nearly $150,000 in welcomed income.
“I think the Government has done a fantastic job to help stimulate the economy on the back of COVID. This has been done through wonderful initiatives like the Dine & Discover, JobKeeper, super withdrawals but also by guiding us through this pandemic safely and good policy,” he explained.
Seeing a similar response from patrons has been Harris & Narvo Hotels, which has five venues spread throughout regional NSW. Group general manager Jordan Harris told Australian Hotelier the vouchers have given his venue’s patrons the confidence to dine in without breaking their own budget.
“Since the start of Dine & Discover food trade has remained strong across our five venues. The Bayview, Woy Woy and Hotel Jesmond, Jesmond are our strongest Dine & Discover performers with the vouchers equating to an average 15 per cent of their weekly trade. Across the board our bistro trade is up around 10 per cent,” Harris said.
“I believe we would have seen a drop off in food trade across the group, particularly as the COVID benefits ceased. Dine and Discover has given our patrons a means of spending what they would have previously, without affecting their day-to-day living situation.”
More voucher downloads to come
The vouchers had an alarmingly slow start in usage, with the NSW Government providing data to ABC in mid-April noting less than 10 per cent of the vouchers had been used.
Earlier this week, Service NSW Executive Director, Mandy Young, said the rollout of the Dine and Discover scheme had been optimistically received since its troubling opening month, with 3,933,561 vouchers redeemed, and 94 per cent of customers giving their experience a positive review.
“We are committed to making Dine & Discover NSW accessible to all eligible residents so they can go out, dine out and enjoy local attractions and activities safely,” Young said.
Flower believes this trend will continue, noting many patrons are still yet to download the vouchers.
“We are certainly seeing new faces in our businesses and think many people are using vouchers to try new places,” he said.
“We are stilling getting a good portion of vouchers through but we are certainly finding a lot of people are yet to download them.
“Confidence in the regions is high on the back of the fantastic handling of the pandemic by our Government but also the important community approach locals and businesses are taking to keep everyone safe.”
AHA NSW Director of Liquor and Policing John Green added its members have seen it as a good opportunity to drive income into their venues but says those who have been actively publicising it have benefited the most.
“We’ve noticed those who are maximising their marketing strategies to include Dine & Discover availability are those who are reaping the rewards,” Green said.
“At this stage with the vouchers ending in June, now is the time to get behind it and sign up as a venue to maximise your revenue in the next month.”
Dine and Discover not enough
Harris however, has seen the opposite trend, with patronage dropping. With the vouchers only available until the end of June, he said the government needs to consider future strategies if hospitality venues are going to continue recovering from July onwards.
“We have seen a steady decrease over the last month. We are still trading under significant COVID restrictions, including a 50 per cent reduction in patronage because of the one person per 2sqm rule,” he said.
“A change to this rule, resulting in an increase in patronage would be great for our venues and would see our trade boost significantly. As well as a reduction in restrictions we would like to see more government support in licencing.
“Working with our venues to limit evolving licencing restrictions such as trading hours would allow us to deliver a better service to our customers. They are ready to live their regular lives and socialise at our venues. We see consumers becoming frustrated when restrictions are changed, such as last weekend.”
Flower agreed, saying Flower Hotels is looking to the government to support the hospitality industry around “the challenges of skilled labour shortages especially in our kitchens, on the back of many people either leaving our industry or staff not available through closed borders”.
“Recent announcements have been welcomed but more short and long-term strategy around this is a priority.”