The green light has been given, the lockdown is over and pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes across Melbourne are beginning to reopen.

There are still restrictions in place around capacity and spacing with only 20 patrons allowed inside venues and up to 50 in outdoor areas, subject to spacing capacity. But that’s 20 more people than were allowed on Monday and over the past four months, and it is a long-awaited step in the right direction.

The Speakeasy Group opened Nick and Nora’s for “one hour of power” at 11.59pm yesterday, with Sven Almenning telling The Shout: “As soon we can open we’ll be throwing our doors open. The limitations on distancing and capacity numbers will make it near impossible to make any profit, but at least it will be a moral boost for our teams to be back in venues and back at work.”

Looking ahead for the rest of the year, he added: “From a hospitality perspective I hope they drop the social distancing rules and abandon the current approach with lockdowns and lengthy quarantines, and instead focus on protecting the elderly and others who are considered high risk.

“By doing this we can re-open the economy and go back to business. I am also hoping support mechanisms such as JobKeeper will remain for certain hard hit industries as well as an updated Code of Conduct for commercial leases where tenants have been hard hit.

“We also need someone to police and implement these laws as there currently is very little we are able to do in instances where landlords refuse to play ball.

“But, politics and policies aside, I am hoping people will venture off the couch and tear their eyes away from their latest TV series binge and come out for a good time with their friends and families and that they explore some of the amazing venues that are re-opening and who need guests to survive.”

Iain Ling, owner of Hotel Lincoln and ALIA 2019 Publican of the Year, told The Shout: “We will be opening [on Wednesday] I think the offering will be smaller than what we have been planning, we will need a week or so to get up to full strength. There will be a few holes, but it will be good to be open and welcoming guests back in any way.

“There was always a good chance we were going to be given a very short lead time. It won’t be a perfect opening but we will be open and that in its self is the best news we have had for a hundred or so days.”

The news was also welcomed by Zara Madrusan at Made in the Shade group, who told The Shout: “We are of course delighted to put a date to reopening. The announcement was like the first ray of sunshine after a tsunami.

“It’s been a really dark seven months for this city, and we play a big role in bringing Melbourne back to life. It’s going to be a lot of work, with little pay off whilst strict restrictions remain in place, but we’re ready for it.

“To serve is an utter honour and a pleasure. The extent of COVID-19’s impact on this industry will not be fully appreciated for months, perhaps even years to come.

“Being put in a position to serve again after all this, whilst the city is still navigating such change, is a huge responsibility. Hospitality will play a significant role in the recovery, in uniting people who have been isolated and in reinvigorating Melbourne.”

Black Pearl Director, Tash Conte, told The Shout: “Today is filled with an intense energy in the air. Victoria has been stoic, a weight has been lifted and we are soldiering on – with care of course.”

She added: “We will be opening our doors from Wednesday and look forward to serving our loyal and patient guests and friends who have maintained our survival through this pandemic, through our take away and delivery service.

“We will continue to offer our take away while we return to our new style of service in Black Pearl and private Attic bookings.”

Assessing how the last four months has been, Conte said: “Victoria was on her knees. Hospitality has suffered so much, we are in the people business and being apart for 119 days was extremely difficult on us all.”

But looking positively ahead, she said: “This is the start to rebuilding our teams and businesses and using all the upskills we acquired.

“It’s like the first day we opened all over again.”

Jess McGrath, owner of the Palace Hotel in South Melbourne, told The Shout she was aiming to open the pub on Saturday, expressing her frustration at the lack of notice given to venues.

“It’s a joke,” McGrath said. “It would have been handy to be given a heads up. Our phones and emails have been going off, which is great, but there has been no warning.

“We need to update our booking capabilities, clean, roster, order stock. It’s a huge effort to open a venue after 100-plus days closed.”

The Australian Hotels Association (AHA) welcomed the partial reopening of Victoria, but warned the maximum of 20 patrons inside a venue would not be viable for many of the state’s bars, hotels, pubs and taverns.

AHA National CEO Stephen Ferguson said Victoria’s hotel and hospitality industry and the staff it employs had suffered greatly for most of 2020 and Victoria needs to match other Australian states and territories to prevent any further damage.

“All Victorian hotels have COVID Safe plans and systems in place to ensure safe environments for patrons and staff,” Ferguson said.

“This includes digital contact tracing, COVID Marshalls, heightened cleaning and trained staff.

“75 per cent of Victoria’s pubs will remain closed unless more reasonable limits are allowed – this extreme limit on venue capacity will not result in many people returning to work.”

He added: “A reasonable first step would have been to allow pubs to recommence with one patron-per-four square metres indoors and one patron per two square metres outdoors.

“These are the provisions in NSW and Queensland, enabling venues to maintain safe social distancing whilst getting employers and employees back on their feet.

“Victorian hotels have the systems in place to allow a safe and meaningful reopening – today’s announcement creates a façade of reopening when in reality many doors will remain closed, keeping staff at home and out of work and employers unable to pay the bills.”

Andy Young

Andy joined Intermedia as Editor of The Shout in 2015, writing news on a daily basis and also writing features for National Liquor News. Now Managing Editor of both The Shout and Bars and Clubs.

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