For restaurants, the re-introduction of stage-three restrictions for the Melbourne metropolitan area and Mitchell Shire from midnight Wednesday means a return to takeaway-only until at least August 19, with a potentially crippling effect on business.
Chef Phil Wood, of Mornington Peninsula’s hatted restaurants Pt Leo and Laura, is calling for the Victorian government to urgently consider a support package specifically for the hospitality industry.
He says the lockdown news is devastating for restaurants that have invested thousands of dollars to make their venues COVID-safe, including installing hand-sanitising stations, extra wages to comply with regulations to record customers’ contact details, and who have been left with unusable perishable stock.
“This is a particularly challenging situation for many regional restaurants on the peninsula, for whom delivery and takeaway are not viable options as even local visitors often live 30 minutes away.”
Restaurateur David Mackintosh, of Melbourne’s SPQR and Ides, says the first time restaurants were shut down, they were taken by surprise.
“The real tragedy of this second shutdown and the huge impacts it will have is that, despite the information we have all been given, despite the sacrifices and hard work that most people have done in our community, we now face a more devastating period of shutdown because some people have decided that the obligations on our community did not apply to them. That’s a bitter pill to swallow.”
But for restaurateur Scott Pickett, the news was bitter-sweet. On Monday, he was celebrating taking over Thai restaurant Longrain, which had been an early casualty of the pandemic. By Tuesday afternoon, he was making plans to introduce Longrain To Go as early as July 16.
“We have to look for the positives,” says Pickett. Rather than reopening the shuttered restaurant on July 29, as planned, he’ll have some staff cooking Longrain favourites that travel well, including eggnet, curries and pad Thai, and others working on menu development.
“This will give us more time to get ready [for reopening] and more time for menu planning and testing.”
Alla Wolf-Tasker, executive chef of the Lake House in Daylesford, says many regional restaurants will not survive this lockdown and she backs calls for government assistance.
“We have lost state and international tourists. Now we are about to lose our Melbourne customers. I do not think the government understands that city people are the lifeblood of our restaurant. Without them, we have to question whether it is possible for us to even stay open,” Wolf-Tasker says.
“We had been so busy in these last weeks as people sought to get out of the city for a break. We were finally in a position to start paying off the debt accumulated over the last lockdown, but now this.”
She is urging the government to convene a panel to advise on an assistance package for the Victorian hospitality industry.
After watching case numbers rise over the past week, chef-restaurateur Jerry Mai, of Annam, Pho Nom and Bia Hoi, had been mentally preparing to go back into lockdown.
Late Tuesday, she was going into a Zoom meeting with staff to discuss temporarily closing her CBD venues, Annam and Pho Nom, and delivering takeaways only from Bia Hoi, her Vietnamese-style beer hall in Glen Waverley.
“During the first lockdown, people were very supportive of us moving away from delivery services and doing it ourselves.
“But takeaway from the city didn’t work for us because people said it was too far to travel. I think this time we’ll consolidate our efforts at Bia Hoi.”
Chris Lucas, of popular Flinders Lane restaurant Chin Chin, says: “I’m simply devastated for my employees and our loyal guests and for the entire industry in Melbourne.
“It’s a very cruel blow for an industry that has suffered so much. It’s a long road back but we remain determined to see it through. Melbourne remains one the great food cities of the world and I for one will do everything I can to rebuild this city and help those in need.”
Iain Ling of the Lincoln Hotel has ridden the highs and lows of the shutdown, allowing the Carlton pub to be used to make meals for out-of-work hospitality workers while they were closed. At this stage he has just one message: “Look out for each other. Mental health is going out the window.”