Open for a feast

Copper and Fox assistant venue manager David Murray said the hours following Monday’s announcements had “been a bit of a whirlwind”. Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

Cafes, pubs and restaurants are again open for in-store dining, but many local eateries will struggle to turn a profit, due to strict customer limits.

From Wednesday 28 October, long-starved hospitality venues can welcome 20 customers indoors and up to 50 people outdoors, provided density limits are met.

The State Government last week announced planning exemptions would be put in place to allow venues to capitalise on open spaces including streets, footpaths and carparks to increase outdoor venue capacity.

But that option is unsustainable for many, according to Liberal Gembrook MP Brad Battin, who said it was “just the beginning” of a long recovery out for small businesses.

“While hospitality welcomes the ability to have sit down dining once again, many small cafes and restaurants in Casey and Cardinia will struggle to find space to host outdoor dining,” he said.

“Unlike the city, we are unable to close High Street Berwick or the Princes Highway in Beaconsfield to allow outdoor dining spaces, leaving suburban eateries with minimal sit down dining options.

“We must ensure restrictions continue to ease for Victorian industries as soon as health advice allows to ensure more jobs and businesses are not lost.”

A similar sentiment was echoed by Cardinia CAN founder David Farrelly, who liaises directly with small businesses.

“Large venues can open up and have up to 20 people in their indoor areas, but we still have the four square metre rule that applies, so you really do need to have an extremely large venue to fit those people inside, and there’s only a handful of venues in Cardinia that can do that,” he said.

“We really are looking at such a reduced number of patrons, that for some of these places, it just won’t be worth opening up. In some cases, cafes are only going to be able to fill a couple of tables indoors.”

Mr Farrelly said the response from the hospitality sector had been a mixed bag.

Copper and Fox assistant venue manager David Murray said the hours following Monday’s announcements had “been a bit of a whirlwind”. Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

For many restaurants, including Pakenham’s Copper and Fox and Berwick’s La Baguette, just the certainty of a reopen date was enough to begin with.

Copper and Fox assistant venue manager David Murray said the hours following Monday’s announcements had “been a bit of a whirlwind”.

“We finally get to showcase exactly what we can do in our kitchen, which we haven’t been able to do with takeaway,” he said.

“I’m looking forward to having bar service and serving alcohol again – just being able to have customers experience food and service the way it’s intended.”

The venue is looking to expand its outdoor dining availability by building a “canine cafe”, where people walking their dogs can sit out at the sidewalk and enjoy a sit-down meal.

Meanwhile, up to 20 people can comfortably be seated inside La Baguette, a French fusion inspired restaurant in the heart of Berwick.

Berwick cafe owner Mush Rahaman. Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS 206418_04

Restaurant owner Mush Rahaman opted against serving takeaway throughout the pandemic because of the venue’s dine in nature.

“People come in for an experience with food, service and ambience. It’s a whole package,” he said.

“We decided to sacrifice the past six months and wait until this was over. We had a few takeaway menus but we probably couldn’t satisfy a lot of people who wanted to feed their family for a cheaper price.”

Mr Rahaman is now working on creating a new menu, while also looking to expand his outdoor seating arrangements..“We don’t believe in OK, we believe in the best. I can’t open with the existing menu because I want people to come back and have their expectations completely fulfilled,” he said.

“This period hasn’t been easy but we need to be positive. It’s like a bullet has gone through our body, which has now been fixed, but we will continue to walk with crutches for the next six months to a year until we fully recover.”