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Book ahead, keep it short: How to dine at restaurants, cafes during coronavirus

Victorians cafe and restaurant owners are desperate to reopen. Photo: Getty
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Sunday brunch is back on the menu for Australians from Monday as coronavirus restrictions on cafes and restaurants ease across some states.

But before taking your first bite of avocado on toast post-lockdown, you need to know the rules.

In New South Wales, restrictions have been eased to allow up to 50 people to visit restaurants, pubs and cafes at any one time, and in Victoria and Queensland the limit has been extended to 20 people.

In South Australia, up to 80 people will be allowed inside hospitality establishments, with a limit of 20 people in separate rooms.

But dining out with family and friends won’t be the same as before, and everyone will need to do their bit to help venue operators make it work.

Though it might be tempting to escape your home office by working on your laptop at your favourite cafe for a few hours, please don’t.

There are limitations on how many patrons can be seated at any one time.

If you’re going to slowly sip on a latte by yourself over several hours, it means other groups of customers will miss out.

More importantly, the cafe owners will miss out on making much-needed money after months of crippling lockdowns.

Justin O’Donnell, president of the Chapel Street Precinct Association in Melbourne, said it was all about “mutual respect”.

“We’re calling on people to be understanding, to know that it will be different to how it was prior to COVID,” Mr O’Donnell told The New Daily. 

This means refraining from hugging your friends when they arrive, and no handshakes either.

Customers should also prepare for slightly different menus than what they’re used to at their favourite spots.

To reduce waste and to serve customers quickly, many restaurants and cafes will only offer set menus.

This means you might not be able to tweak menu items (or you might need to ask really, really nicely).

In most cases, bookings will be essential so venue managers know how many customers are coming and can prepare accordingly.

You might only be able to book a limited number of seats, and the length of your visit will probably be capped at two hours to allow for enough trade and turnover.

“Don’t be that person who doesn’t turn up to a booking,” Mr O’Donnell said.

“Every booking is valuable to every business’s survival.”

Be prepared to hand over your contact details upon arrival, too.

“It’s a requirement, not a request,” Mr O’Donnell said.

“If there is a confirmed case, the government needs to contact everybody as soon as possible to reduce the chance of an outbreak.”

Too-hard basket

Though increased customer capacity may sound like a dream to cafe and restaurant owners, not everyone is celebrating yet.

For many small hospitality business owners, the government’s mandatory coronavirus safety guidelines have made it too hard for them to justify reopening.

For example, the ‘four square metre’ rule means business operators are not allowed entry to more than one person for every four square metres of available floor space at their venue.

This means that if a cafe has a total floorspace of 20 square metres, then no more than five people (including staff) can be in that premises at the same time.

Without their usual stream of customers allowed to come in, many cafe and restaurant owners have decided it’s not worth reopening – it’s simply too expensive.

Until the COVID-safe rules are eased or lifted completely, many businesses like The Hot Chicken Project in Geelong, Victoria, will continue to only offer takeaway meals.

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