Australian foodies and those who enjoy a good night out heaved a sigh of relief when Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced last week that the nation’s restaurants would be allowed to reopen again under stage one regulations.
But the tough conditions attached to the reopening process may mean that many restaurants will decline to do so because it will be economically unviable.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews foreshadowed this possibility at a press conference on Monday, 11 May when he estimated that it could be another three week before bars, cafes and restaurants open for anything other than a takeaway.
“The feedback from many businesses is that at just 10 patrons it’s hard to be viable,” he said. “I think takeaway will be a feature for a long time. If we can supplement and complement that with table service at more than 10, there’s every chance for a more viable model. That’s our thinking.”
Only 10 patrons allowed, with strict social distancing
Under the stage one regulations, cafes and restaurants may open and seat up to 10 patrons at one time. They must also maintain an average density of 4sq. m per person. Restaurants within pubs can open and seat up to 10 patrons with the same social-distancing requirements. Food courts are to remain closed to seated patrons.
In subsequent stages, the number of patrons will rise to 20 and then to 100. But the same density requirements will remain.
Opening may only be viable in step three
But now restaurateurs are saying it is unlikely this three-step strategy will help an already desperate industry to recover any time soon.
Peter Gilmore, well-known chef at the upmarket Quay and Bennelong restaurant in Sydney Harbour is one of those.
“Financially, it’s just not worth opening with 10 or 20 people,” he told Guardian Australia. “Those first one-step and two-step situations aren’t viable for most restaurants, probably. Gilmore predicted it would only be viable for his restaurant once the step three limit of 100 people is reached.
Not a business model for fine dining
Jacqui Challinor, executive chef at Nomad, which is another high-end Sydney eatery, agreed. She said that to turn a reasonable profit the restaurant needed to serve 1 500 customers a week.
“It doesn’t seem like a model that is going to work on fine-dining restaurants. It seems to be more of a model that would suit casual, franchise, takeaway kind of venues,” she observed.