Traders slam government’s COVID-safe Melbourne outdoor dining plan

Melbourne restaurant owners sceptical of the state government’s plan to have eateries “reimagine” operations and increase their alfresco dining capacity say the “huge task” is not possible to achieve “at the click of a finger”.

Johnny Di Francesco, owner of the popular Brunswick East pizza eatery 400 Gradi, raised concerns about Melbourne’s erratic weather and said “thousands more” would need to be invested in outdoor heating and rain and wind sheltering.

“You’re looking at $20-30,000 for some of these things,” he told NCA NewsWire.

“Most venues have capacity for outdoor dining, but the major concern is the weather changes. Everyone knows Melbourne is renowned for its four seasons in one day.”

Mr Di Francesco said the only way the plan could work, was to allow more customers to dine indoors.

“There needs to be a mixture of indoor and outdoor dining and that will get some fluidity happening,” he said.

“But you can’t just rely on outdoor dining. It sounds good, but there are many factors at play which could make it a lot more complicated.”

The Victorian Government promised another $290 million to help struggling businesses survive lockdown on Monday.

Under the package $100 million will go to a Melbourne city recovery fund to help businesses set up outdoors, convert rooftops and courtyards, and fund COVID-safe events to encourage people to return to the CBD over summer.

But Matt Lanigan, owner of South Yarra cafe Lucky Penny, told NCA NewsWire many businesses would need more space.

“Most places don’t have a large outdoor area. If we were to go ahead with this plan, there would need to be a commitment that businesses can use carparks, bike lanes or side streets,” he said.

“This is something that needs to be done on a scale that is bold and is extraordinary. It needs to replicate the business model the trader has currently in place.

“It may mean bike lanes and traffic is diverted, but it’s a small sacrifice the community needs to make and support, and I think the majority of the community want their small businesses to survive.”

Mr Lanigan said revenue at his cafe was down 90 per cent since the pandemic started and called on the state government to entrust in industry leaders.

“The hospitality industry was very disciplined in hygiene prior to COVID – it’s already apart of operating procedures – but I think those things have been overlooked, especially the trust in the industry to do the right thing.”

In Windsor, Bistro Morgan owner Morgan Hipworth said he was already looking at options to increase his footpath trading capacity.

“We only have a small footpath trading area. It only allows us to have two tables but we’re hoping the Honda dealership next door, which has no use of the footpath, will be happy for us to take it over, otherwise two tables won’t be enough to reopen,” he said.

“We’re hoping local government can support businesses as well. It’s not just business owners doing it tough here; it’s the staff and workers and the local community.”

Industry Support and Recovery Minister Martin Pakula said the plan to implement an outdoor dining culture would not only help prevent COVID-19 outbreaks, but “transform the city … not just for this summer”.

“It will be something that I think Victorians will love and appreciate and it will create a new alfresco environment for CBD dining which will, I suspect, be enjoyed for many summers hence,” he said.

There will also be an $87.5 million outdoor hospitality package for businesses outside the CBD with a payroll under $3 million, which will be paid in grants of up to $5000 to cover the cost of umbrellas, outdoor furniture and screens to separate diners.

anthony.piovesan@news.com.au



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