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‘We’re doing better now than we were’

Life in Queensland is adapting to the new normal of living with COVID-19, as the state currently has three active cases and no new cases in the last 24 hours.

The state’s hospitality venues are all allowed to be open as long as they operate with a COVID-safe framework. This still means one person per four square metres on premises indoors, or one person per two square metres outdoors. For the state’s small bars there is the exception that businesses with an indoor space less than 200 metres are allowed one person per two square metres, up to 50 at a time.

Physical distancing rules still apply, so wherever possible, people should remain 1.5 metres away from others (except if they are in the same group).

At Alba Bar and Deli, co-owner Jamie Fleming normally has a capacity of 70, and he told Bars and Clubs “we’ve been sitting at 40 to 50 people for a couple of months now”.

He also gave some hope to operators in other states who are slowly reopening and who are still under tighter restrictions, that succeeding in the tougher trading environment is possible.

“A metre-and-a-half is a long way when you actually measure it out. It’s a table gap and obviously I’d prefer to put another table in there, but it creates a different atmosphere.

“We’ve moved far more into restaurant service as opposed to the more casual setting. But I’ve introduced some slightly larger meals to help keep people around and increase spend per head, because we’re not cramming them in.

“It’s a different vibe, that still feels full, but we’re doing better now than we were. We’ve actually managed to turn this around and increase numbers a relative amount.”

In terms of how they’ve done that, Jamie said: “One of the major things is that they initially let off the restrictions such a small amount, that because we’re owner-operated I just went back into the kitchen.

“It was me and one person so expenses were low and even while we had 10 people it was still worth us opening. We did two sittings of 10 people and we just figured it out, but also because of that 10 person limit a lot of place didn’t open, which meant that anyone who was out and about was relatively limited for choice.

“Then all the street mags started doing stories about which places were open and an unexpected bonus of being called Alba is that we were normally top of the list, which has definitely changed the way I am going to name any venues that I open in the future.”

And speaking of opening new venues, Jamie said he felt there was a lot of positivity around that as well.

“It’s interesting the amount of rumblings I hear about people starting to look at new sites, or who have opened new sites as a result of how hard they had to pivot and how focused they became, because of what happened, myself included. It’s pretty phenomenal.

“It’s hit an interesting point where everyone has recovered enough, if not started to thrive and are now looking from an opportunistic point of view because there are some pretty cheap rents out there, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t looked at a couple.”

There’s little doubt that another thing Jamie is looking at, and looking forward to is being able to head to Victoria and visit Melbourne’s bars again.

“For me personally, fuck man, as soon as that border is open get ready. Get ready because I’m flying straight down with my missus and we’re going to hit up as many bars as we can.

“We did a fundraiser up here and we were super-happy to be able to send three grand down to a lot of bars. But it’s like the bushfires again ‘go somewhere with an empty esky’ rest assured to all the bars in Melbourne, I will be there with bells on.”

See you there mate!

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