Stoicism sets in as Victorian publicans ‘soldier on’

06 August, 2020 by Vanessa Cavasinni

With Stage 4 restrictions in Melbourne and Stage 3 restrictions throughout the rest of Victoria now in effect, publicans are hunkering down to get their businesses through the next six weeks of very little trade.

Premier Dan Andrews’ announcement at the beginning of the week of tougher restrictions for the state came as no surprise for many within the hospitality industry, who had been expecting the move to Stage 4 for some weeks no. Instead, what was more immediately pressing was the uncertainty surrounding whether pubs and bars were able to continue on a takeaway and delivery model, as the original Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) outline of permissible work specified that pubs and bars were to close for on-premise work, while only cafes and restaurants were listed as being permitted to offer takeaway and delivery.

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After multiple industry inquiries, the DHHS have now updated their document of permitted work premises to include pubs and bars in for takeaway and delivery food services.

For Melbourne pubs and bars, the move to Stage 4 restrictions does not mean massive changes to businesses, which had already been restricted to takeaway and delivery in Stage 3. The main changes are now that all workers must be issued and carry a Permitted Worker Permit, otherwise individuals and workplaces can face hefty fines. Employers are responsible for organising the permits for their staff.

The real sense of worry for hoteliers is facing another six weeks of dramatically reduced trade. At the Robert Burns Hotel in Collingwood, owner Gerry Nass said that his he and his team pivoted to a takeaway and delivery model early in both shutdowns, and while doing relatively well with it, are still barely getting by.

“I think we’re one of the busiest venues in the neighbourhood, yet our sales are probably at 10-15 per cent of a normal week. So we’re literally just scraping through. It’s so tough,” stated Nass.

“But I’m not moping or defeated, we’re just soldiering on. It is what it is.”

Regional Victoria enters second shutdown

Outside of Melbourne, the rest of the state’s pubs are now entering their second shutdown, which began at 12am today. Outside of densely populated residential areas, this means a complete shutdown for many venues.

At Tinamba Hotel in the Gippsland region, trade normally depends on Melbourne, interstate and international tourism, as people move through the small inland town to the Lakes area of Gippsland. With tourism on hold and a local population of only 30, operator Damien Gannon said it made more sense to just close up rather than offer a takeway model. Instead, “locals” within 100km of the venue booked it out in the last few days, and leftover stock was created into take-home packs.

Gannon, who is also sits on the board of Destination Gippsland, maintains a fairly positive outlook for the end of the six-week period, and predicts that tourism will return to the area.

“I’m fairly positive. It’s been quite busy for the six or so weeks we reopened [after the first shutdown], and a lot of people came back to us, so we’re thinking that when we do reopen we’ll get back to that. And I’m also thinking once Melbourne opens up again, we’ll start to see a lot of the day-trippers. So I’m thinking that things will bounce back, because of course we can’t travel interstate or internationally at this stage. I think Victorians will support other venues within the state.”

Kylie Schurmann, assistant general manager at the highly acclaimed Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld, offers a similar sentiment.

“We’re optimistic that these strict lockdowns will help to flatten the curve. This will then allow us to enter more favourable trading conditions into spring, which is traditionally a busy time for our region, coupled with the pent-up demand we know is there.”

Royal Mail Hotel, which relies y on a visitor economy, has been completely closed since the travel restrictions were applied to metro Melbourne and Mitchell Shire back in early July.

“We did offer a home-delivered, ‘two- hatted’ cook-at-home product during the first round of restrictions in April/May, which was great for brand awareness and to connect us with our guest base,” stated Schurmann.

Since closure, the staff have been sustained by the JobKeeper program, and have been working on maintenance of the venue and property.

Tourism Accommodation Australia (Victoria) general manager, Dougal Hollis, said Victorian hoteliers are facing the toughest set of trading conditions they have ever encountered.

“Hoteliers are demonstrating remarkable resilience given current circumstances. This is clearly a massive challenge, but it’s important to remind ourselves our industry is structurally sound and not fundamentally broken.”

Hollis said both AHA (Vic) and TAA (Vic) are continuing to work closely with the Victorian Government to “provide operational clarity to hoteliers on permissible activities relating to essential travel under Stage 4 restrictions.”

Image: Royal Mail Hotel (Facebook)