Outdoor dining key to hospo reopening in VICTORIA

Published 18 September, 2020

While the State Government announced a roadmap out of lockdowns last weekend, there are still a lot of unknowns for hospo. And specifically, the move toward outdoor dining and how it’ll work.

Here’s the current state of play, and what you can do now to prepare.

What we know

Currently, as of 18 September, there are two different roads out — for metro and regional Victoria — with Regional Victoria jumping ahead this week.

Stage 3 of the roadmap has a  big focus on outdoor dining as part of the plan to reopen hospitality. One which arguably is a controversial decision, but one we must embrace nonetheless. 

And while most of us would agree, progress feels slow and still so far away, it’s comforting to know the case numbers are coming down and we’re moving in the right direction.

What Regional Victoria can do now

With Regional Victoria now in stage 3, hospo businesses are now able to:

  • Offer table service again
  • Cafes and restaurants can seat people in groups of up to 10, subject to density limits and seating to be mostly outdoors
  • There needs to be a two-hour time limit on all bookings
  • Indoor spaces are limited to 10 patrons, subject to a density rule of 4 square metres per person
  • A maximum of two separate indoor spaces will be allowed to open per venue, meaning larger venues could seat a total of 20 patrons indoors — 10 in each room
  • Outdoor areas are allowed to seat more people and have them closer together, with a maximum of 50 patrons, subject to the 2 square metre rule
  • Tables still need to be 1.5 metres apart

Hospo recovery tied with outdoor dining

There are still so many unknowns, but one thing we do know is that there is a big emphasis on outdoor dining. While the R&CA is campaigning for indoor dining to be boosted, the State Government is still very much focused on outdoor first, as the predominant dining system.

Why? Well, when it comes to spreading the coronavirus they say, it seems that outdoor dining is considered safer than indoor dining, with research suggesting that outdoor gatherings are safer than indoor ones.

With the evidence suggest that the spread COVID-19 is more likely with indoor activities, because indoor spaces have less ventilation and it might be harder to keep people apart, it’s easy to see why the Victorian Government is pushing to open up with outdoor dining. 

Will outdoor dining be enough?

It depends who you talk to. While some are saying it’s not, others are choosing to be positive and to work with these new freedoms as best they can. And there’s the new funding boost to help make it happen too.

The Victorian Government announced a $290 million funding injection to support business operations and help make the outdoor dining initiative take off.

As part of the additional funding, there will be:

  • $3,000 grants for sole traders to help cover overheads during shutdowns
  • $5,000 grants for hospitality businesses to cover outdoor dining equipment, such as umbrellas, furniture and screens
  • $100 million for the City of Melbourne, which includes grants for businesses to buy equipment and convert spaces
  • $29.5 million for councils outside the City of Melbourne to help facilitate outdoor dining
  • A new cash grant, the third round of the Business Support Fund, which will give eligible businesses up to $20,000. Grant applications open Friday 18 September. 

So strong is the push for outdoor dining that outdoor dining permits and liquor licences used to trade outdoors have also been waived.

Where to start with outdoor dining

If your business doesn’t already have an outdoor dining area, there are a few things to think about. (And even if your business already has an outdoor area, keep reading cause you might read a new tip, or be able to expand your outdoor space.)

Firstly, don’t be afraid to get creative!

Take a look around your venue. Is there somewhere close you could use, and importantly service? These could be immediately out front of your premises, on the footpath, on the road, in a laneway or alley, or even another outside location you can service from your premises. 

If you’re lucky enough to already have an outdoor space, take a step back and reassess it. Can you can expand it even further to increase capacity?

How can you activate and service your space?

You’ll need to think about all the physical aspects:

  • Tables
  • Chairs
  • Screens
  • Waterproof marquees (cause you know, Melbourne weather)
  • Umbrellas for shade

Servicing the space is also a big consideration, as it can be pretty different to indoor dining, especially if your outdoor space isn’t right outside your front door. Think of all the ways you can make it easy — for you and your patrons — such as plastic drinking glasses and online ordering.

Get your outdoor dining permit

For venues that already have an outdoor permit, it’s been forecasted by the R&CA that an expansion to that permit should be relatively straightforward, as your local council are already familiar with your business and the surrounding space it trades in.

But for first timers to outdoor dining, it’s anticipated that there could be delays – timings will differ council to council  – so best to get in early. The good news is that the R&CA is putting together guidelines for working with local councils. But their best advice this week has been to  get your permit application in now in anticipation for reopening, rather than waiting until the restrictions ease to avoid any delays. 

Have you got your liquor licence?

While liquor licencing fees are being waived, you still need a licence. We recommend checking the website for the latest information. 

A new COVID-safe plan to include outdoor areas

You’ll need a new COVID-safe plan, which includes outdoor dining. The template for this has yet to be released. But once it is, you’ll need to complete and submit your new COVID-safe plan before you can reopen.

Remember, there are specific food service things to think about when it comes to your COVID-safe plan.

FAQs

Q: What about wet weather?

A: Melbourne is a city of many seasons in one day. So it’s important to have a plan for wet weather. According to the R&CA, “outdoor” dining includes having a marquee roof over an outdoor area, with one or no side walls up. It can be a permanent or a temporary roof, used to protect the diners from the elements. Importantly, any space with 2 or more walls is classified as “indoor”. 

Q: What about “dry zones” in Central Melbourne? Will these be waived to allow alcohol consumption?

A: There’s no official word on this yet from the State Government, but R&CA have advised they are pushing to relax and waive rules to make way for outdoor dining. Stay tuned.

Q: My business doesn’t have an outdoor space, what should I do?

A: The R&CA is putting pressure on the State Government to allow hospo to open up for indoor trade with stage 3 of the roadmap. It could be that indoor dining will reopen if Victoria gets to and sustains 0 COVID cases. But that’s all subject to Government ruling.  It’s important to remember, the current roadmap isn’t set in stone, and things can change.

Regardless, it does look very likely that outdoor dining is here to stay, especially with Summer around the corner, and a key focus for a short to medium term solution for hospo businesses. 

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