When NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced on Sunday that cafes and restaurants could reopen with up to 10 diners at a time, Macleay Street Bistro was booked out within an hour.
“I guess people are just sick of being at home,” said Phillip Fikkers, owner of the 40-seat Potts Point restaurant. “My inbox has been flooded with customers requesting a table for our first service back on Friday night.”
Mr Fikkers is one of many Sydney restaurant operators looking forward to welcoming guests on Friday for the first stage of COVID-19 restrictions easing in NSW.
However, the restaurateur said it would be many months before his bistro was likely to turnover the same revenue as it was before the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have experienced an 80 per cent drop in business over the past two months. We will need to offer takeaway to make up for the reduced dining room capacity for some time.”
Other Sydney venues set to reopen and operate at a reduced capacity include Aqua Dining in Milsons Point, Woolloomooloo’s Manta, and Fix Wine Bar and Restaurant in the CBD.
Fix owner Stuart Knox said it usually wouldn’t be financially feasible to open with the caveat of 10 customers at a time, but JobKeeper payments and reduced rent from a generous landlord had made it possible to continue operating.
“There’s more people returning to work in the city which is great, too. Although it’s not busy in the area by any stretch, we’ll continue to offer takeaway and view the opportunity to have a few people come in for lunch as a bonus.”
Mr Knox expects he will need to time manage Fix’s restaurant sittings to create a steady customer turnover. “I think people will understand that if I can only seat 10 customers in the restaurant, then lingering over one glass of wine for two hours isn’t really the done thing.”
Clareville Kiosk owner-chef Nathan Boler said customers were also contacting his Northern Beaches restaurant within an hour of Sunday’s announcement.
“People were calling to say ‘We’ve heard you’re reopening – when can we come in?’,” he said.
However, Mr Boler has no plans to reopen his restaurant’s 32-seat dining room on Friday.
“People see our restaurant as somewhere a bit special. I don’t want to reopen on Friday for guests to be let down by the experience. For example, if I can only open for 10 people, I’ll need to find a way that makes financial sense to employ floor staff just to pour wine.
“I’ll need to take a close look at our food offering, because to offer a full a la carte menu will require more chefs. In the meantime, my wife and I have built up a great takeaway menu over the past few weeks and we want to keep working on that.”
The second step of the federal government’s three-stage restriction-easing roadmap will allow cafes and restaurants to seat up to 20 customers at a time, leading to 100 diners by the third stage.
However while there is a requirement to maintain an average density of one person per four square metres, Mr Boler said Clareville Kiosk would still not be able to seat more than 10 guests.
“It’s a cosy space, which is usually lovely, just not when social distancing rules are in place.”
Fink restaurant group counts Otto, Bennelong, Firedoor and three-hatted Quay in its portfolio. The business also has no plans to reopen its venues under stage one of restrictions easing due to the costs involved of providing a fine-dining experience.
“Stage three, however – we can work with that,” said the group’s creative director John Fink. “We’ve been poring over spreadsheets that would make your brain curdle, looking how to best reopen. But at the end of day, we’re not going to make any money for the next 12 months.”
Even at stage three, Quay would likely be operating at 40 per cent of the turnover expected before the pandemic, said Mr Fink, but the group felt it was important to reopen its restaurants and “bring back culture and civility and joy” to Sydney regardless.
“We love our guests and we love what we do. We want to treat people like rock stars after all this lockdown stuff ends.”