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Bars take the opportunity to reopen

Mikey Enright

Since last Friday many states and territories have eased lockdown restrictions, enabling venues to open their doors for the first time in two months and many did just that.

Friday saw venues in New South Wales, Queensland and Australian Capital Territory allowed to reopen with a maximum of 10 people inside at one time. In the Northern Territory on-premise bar and dining services started with a two-hour time limit for each patron.

From yesterday Western Australia allowed seated dining for 20 people, subject to staff completing a COVID-19 hygiene course, while Tasmania also starts on-premise trading today for up to 10 people.

Victoria has announced it will be re-opening venues from 1 June, and South Australia is allowing seated dining for up to 20 people from 8 June.

So what was it like to reopen?

Ryan Lane told Bars and Clubs that it was very weird to be back serving customers in his Brisbane bar Proof and BBQ.

“It was strange doing this half-half restaurant thing after changing the entire business model to delivery and takeaway,” Lane said.

“We’d fallen into a delivery/takeaway model so deep, it was like re-learning FOH service again, but was met with a great response from customers.”

Lane offered a full menu with bookings only being taken for groups of two up to 10 and each with 90-minute sittings and again he has set the bar up with spaced tables to meet the government regulations.

He added: “We are fully re-opening to our normal trading hours of Wednesday to Sunday, lunch and dinner and we are booked solid.”

Barrelhouse Group also took the opportunity to open The Duke of Clarence in Sydney, and while The Barber Shop remains closed, Co-Owner Mike Enright told Bars and Clubs they are looking at options for that, following a successful Sunday opening.

“We had quite a few requests from people to reopen when it was announced, and at the moment you just have to be so reactive right now. So we just looked at it and said ‘what do we need to do to get this place open’. We had a booking system in place already and we wouldn’t have been able to turn it round if we hadn’t had that.

“Overall it was really positive and already our week is filling up, so it’s 10 people we wouldn’t have had in there and every bit helps right now doesn’t it?”

And in terms of being open again, Enright added: “It was lovely to see the venue on Sunday opened and looking great, we had the fire going and a bit of music on and then a few people rolled in with big smiles, it was a truly great feeling. It feels like a lot of people have missed their bars, pubs and cafes particularly from a social point of view.”

Looking forward at plans for The Barber Shop he told Bars and Clubs: “I think we’ll do a table of 10 with a gin masterclass on Friday nights, we could never do that normally and we’re just looking at ways we can best utilise the space. Where The Duke of Clarence works for 90-minute bookings, I think we can do something a bit different with The Barber Shop, do some unique experiences, things that we could never do otherwise and do something special for people.”

James Harvey-Fiander, Managing Director at The Fox Hole bar in Sydney said the venue had a great response to opening on Friday, “it seems like everyone’s really really keen to support us, we have been overwhelmed by people enquiring and making bookings,” he said.

“The opening on Friday and getting hordes of people come in – we were full. It’s not normal for us, we usually have two services, a lunch service and a dinner service. But we were full from midday until midnight on Friday and we literally had customer after customer after customer and when I say we were full I mean we had 10 customers, but just constantly for 12 hours, which was really exciting. The vibe was really nice. The people loved it and really, it has done amazing things for our staff’s morale.”

The Fox Hole also moved a core part of their venue into the virtual world, and what started as a temporary move but has since transformed to be a successful pivot and continuing fixture.

In Queensland Hallmark Group, operates Finn McCools in both Brisbane and Gold Coast and opened both venues with bookings only, a spokesperson for the group told Bars and Clubs: “With structured booking times for each group the exercise was fairly simple, and the customers who attended loved the opportunity to be able to catch up with friends and family in a social setting.”

Both venues spaced tables and chairs to enable social distancing and had hand sanitiser available to staff and customers. Staff also regularly sanitised high touch surfaces to help create COVID-safe places.

In terms of making to 10-patron limit work, the spokesperson said: “For us it was fairly simple, the set booking times made it easy for the team to deliver a great experience for each booking. Reduced menu options enabled us to cut down on prep times whilst still offering a good variety.

“Interest peaked in the lead up with an influx of enquiries that lead to a fully booked Saturday and a few bookings on Sunday. Everyone just enjoyed a bit of normality in a venue away from home.”

It’s a start, as Enright said for venues who can manage it successfully it’s people coming in who would not have been there last week. Customers are keen and each operator Bars and Clubs spoke to said the social distancing requirements were understood and people know what they have to do to keep the reopening program on-track. Hopefully we can keep this going and continue on the path to once again enjoying a vibrant nightlife across the country.

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