Australia is a renowned foodie nation and Melbourne is our foodie capital. But our hospitality industries are facing unprecedented change due to the social and economic restrictions implemented to prevent spread of the novel coronavirus.And it’s having a massive impact on our restaurant owners, chefs, wait staff and other hospitality workers.
The commercial issues for the hospitality industry are multi-layered.
First and most obvious is the disappearance of “eat-in” options – restaurants and eateries are simply not able to open for sit down meals. That immediately means a big reduction in meals sold and cashflow. It also means, where eateries have decided to cater for take-away options, changes in menus and the type of food being prepared and sold.
Second is the massive reduction in passer-by traffic in places like Melbourne’s CBD, where restaurants and cafes routinely cater for lunch time office worker trade, for example.
Third is the massive exit of skilled and qualified staff. Even where eateries are able to cater for take-away customers, the requirement for employees is massively reduced and many may not qualify for the government’s Job Keeper allowance. Once social distancing measures start to ease, attracting these staff back to the hospitality sector could prove quite challenging and may make the reinvigoration of the industry slower than for some other sectors.
Some parts of the sector have benefited from the availability of food delivery services, although some of those services have been heavily criticised for refusing to adjust commissions, further reducing the commercial viability for already stretched restaurant businesses.
However, there are things that all of us can do to help. For hospitality businesses striving to survive the dramatic downturn in custom, every sale helps and everyone has the opportunity to do a little bit to support them. Whether it’s buying a coffee every day from a local café when you’re out on your morning socially distant walk, or treating the family to a Friday night takeaway meal from your favourite fish and chip shop or local restaurant, every sale helps those businesses to keep their heads above water, employ a few people and pay the rent.
It’s hard to anticipate what the future looks like for Australian hospitality businesses – while social distancing rules are set to be scaled back in the near future, the suggestion is that pubs and restaurants will not benefit from the first round of easing.
Some Melbourne based hospitality businesses are doing incredible things for the community even during this incredibly difficult time. The Estelle in Northcote, Victoria are offering fully cooked restaurant quality takeout meals to anyone in the hospitality industry who is currently doing it tough, has lost their job or isn’t eligible for Job Keeper payments. Their chef, Scott Pickett, has been extremely supportive of the hospitality industry during the pandemic and is the definitely one of the most vocal about how hard the industry has really been hit.
Thankfully, in other parts of Australia hospitality businesses are also sticking together. Bloodwood in Newtown, New South Wales has now handed out over 100 free meals to hospitality workers all over Sydney as a way to support those who are struggling. It is incredible to see venues all over Australia are sticking together during these hard times, in true hospitality spirit they are soldiering on.
Small businesses are the economic engine room of Australia, and the hospitality sector comprises a significant chunk of Australia’s small business community. The future of many of those businesses depends on each of us doing whatever little bit we can to patronise restaurants, cafes and the like and help them through this challenging time.