With more lockdowns in Melbourne announced over the weekend, Iain Ling, operator of Carlton pub The Lincoln, says he and his team are planning for any scenario for their business.

Ling, who was named Publican of the Year at the 2019 ALIAs, said that the 23 March shutdown was devastating for the pub, but it was also a time for evaluation. While many other pubs quickly pivoted to takeaway to move stock and keep cash flow going, The Lincoln was stymied in that aspect by its location in a more commercial part of the suburb.

“We are a workers pub with not a lot of residential around us. Without people in the surrounding office buildings, universities, unions, etc we would have struggled to get traction in a delivery market – the food would have had to travel too far,” stated Ling.

Instead, The Lincoln team decided to take a couple of weeks to take stock and figure out how to the best way for the business to get through the shutdown. While JobKeeper eventually did provide some relief, the initial wait for it to kick in did tie up cash flow further.

“It does feel like hospitality, tourism and the arts have been unfairly weighted with a lot of responsibility and stigma during this period.”

Prepared to do it again

Having now been through one lockdown, and seeing nearby suburbs be shutdown again as COVID-19 cases begin to spike once more, Ling says The Lincoln is now prepared for a second shutdown if it comes to that.

“We are a lot leaner and are running more on a week-to-week basis. The product we are offering is a lot simpler at the moment – it has to be. We can’t carry as much fresh produce with the infection numbers on the rise again and we can’t have 8-10 bottles of wine open at any time. It just doesn’t make business sense.”

The Lincoln has had a lot of support from the local community since re-opening, with the pub at capacity most nights. The return of patrons has given the pub some stability, but Ling is pragmatic in his assessment of the future in the short-term.

“I don’t think the current situation will remain like this for long. There’s a high chance it will go either way so we are remaining pretty fluid in our operation as it looks like there will be some sort of restrictions in place for a considerable time to come.”

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