By Brydie Allen, Vanessa Cavasinni and Andy Young

Over the course of this weekend, and today, many states and territories have eased lockdown restrictions, enabling venues to open their doors for the first time in two months and many did just that.

In New South Wales, Queensland and Australian Capital Territory venues were allowed to re-open with a maximum of 10 people inside at one time. In the Northern Territory on-premise bar and dining services started with a two-hour time limit for each patron.

Western Australia is allowing seated dining for 20 people from today, subject to staff completing a COVID-19 hygiene course, while Tasmania also starts on-premise trading today for up to 10 people.

Victoria has announced it will be re-opening venues from 1 June, and South Australia is allowing seated dining for up to 20 people from 8 June.

So how was trading for those venues that chose to open their doors? TheShout spoke to several operators to find out.

Hallmark Group, which operates Finn McCools in both Brisbane and Gold Coast, opened both venues with bookings only and a spokesperson for the group telling TheShout: “With structured booking times for each group the exercise was fairly simple, and the customers who attended loved the opportunity to be able to catch up with friends and family in a social setting.”

Both venues spaced tables and chairs to enable social distancing and had hand sanitiser available to staff and customers. Staff also regularly sanitised high touch surfaces to help create COVID-safe places.

In terms of making to 10-patron limit work, the spokesperson said: “For us it was fairly simple, the set booking times made it easy for the team to deliver a great experience for each booking. Reduced menu options enabled us to cut down on prep times whilst still offering a good variety.

“Interest peaked in the lead up with an influx of enquiries that lead to a fully booked Saturday and a few bookings on Sunday. Everyone just enjoyed a bit of normality in a venue away from home.”

‘A great response from customers’

Also in Brisbane Ryan Lane opened his Proof and BBQ bar and told TheShout it was very weird to be back serving customers.

“It was strange doing this half-half restaurant thing after changing the entire business model to delivery and takeaway.

“We’d fallen into a delivery/takeaway model so deep, it was like re-learning FOH service again, but was met with a great response from customers.”

Lane offered a full menu with bookings only being taken for groups of two up to 10 and each with 90-minute sittings and again he has set the bar up with spaced tables to meet the government regulations.

He added: “We are fully re-opening to our normal trading hours of Wednesday to Sunday, lunch and dinner and we are booked solid.”

Re-opening also proved successful in regional Queensland, although Andrew Smith owner of the Condamine Hotel did describe the new restrictions as “a challenge”.

He said: “There was a definite increase in workload despite the small numbers. I think patron numbers will increase as they understand it a little better. We encouraged bookings, however we did accept walk-ins to fill any gaps in numbers.”

The hotel again set furniture according to the rules and Smith said there was “naturally an increased awareness among staff of the importance of hygiene, plus we put strengthened processes in place”.

Smith added: “The response was quite good, we need to ramp up our communications to ensure that all patrons are aware of what we are offering. As we are currently doing takeaway meals, there was very little change. We are having sessions in the evening to encourage more numbers.”

‘Everyone was thrilled to be back in the venue’

In Sydney Chris Traill the licensee of the Lady Hampshire Hotel said they had a private booking for Saturday lunch and then managed to sittings on Saturday night to serve 20 people in total.

Traill told TheShout: “We’re now doing table service, whereas before we had a buzzer service where you would order and pick up at the bar. So moving to table service has been a transition that we’re getting our heads around, but that has also helped in terms of hygiene.

“Definitely between seatings, both lunch and dinner and the turnover of tables, we’ve been very conscious of stepping up the hygiene regime. So making sure we’re wiping down the tables and chairs and so forth; hand sanitiser on every table. It’s definitely been a focus.”

In terms of being worthwhile, he added: “We pivoted to takeaway straight away after the shutdown, pulling down a lot of our kitchen equipment and installed a commercial pizza oven, so we have been doing deliveries and pick-up since the end of March.

“And we continue to do that, so we’re operating anyway six nights a week. So essentially the dining has been added on to our new offering. Dining is basically in addition to our delivery/takeaway offer.”

He was delighted to tell TheShout, patrons were very happy to head to the pub again.

“It was great, really good. Everyone was thrilled to be back in the venue. Last night we didn’t have any bookings for dinner so we got in touch with one of our local regulars and he rounded up a table of 10, which was great. Plus we had a couple of walk-ins after that sitting. So given that we’re operating anyway, it was definitely a success.

“We did have a notable downturn in our takeaway orders this weekend, so I think people were more inclined to dine in-venue this weekend, rather than order takeaway.”

‘A massive success story’

James Harvey-Fiander, Managing Director at The Fox Hole bar in Sydney said the venue had a great response to opening on Friday, “it seems like everyone’s really really keen to support us, we have been overwhelmed by people enquiring and making bookings,” he said.

“The opening on Friday and getting hordes of people come in – we were full. It’s not normal for us, we usually have two services, a lunch service and a dinner service. But we were full from midday until midnight on Friday and we literally had customer after customer after customer and when I say we were full I mean we had 10 customers, but just constantly for 12 hours, which was really exciting. The vibe was really nice. The people loved it and really, it has done amazing things for our staff’s morale.”

Prior to lockdown you could head to the Fox Hole and do a 90-minute gin experience, Harvey-Fiander said this incorporated “food, gin tasting and a guided tour through some of our more obscure gins”.

The bar has since turned that into a virtual experience, and Harvey-Fiander said: “The gin experience has been a massive success story for us.

“It’s been an interesting journey over the last month because I guess when we first set out, we expected it to be a temporary arrangement to do some of our things virtually and that we’d just go back to normal. That thinking lasted for maybe about a week and then we thought wow people actually love this, this is going to be a forever thing. So we’ve basically committed to continue doing virtual experiences and our takeaway cocktails and so on.”

The Shout Team

The leading online news service for Australia's beer, wine, spirits and hospitality industries.

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