Pubs reopen in NSW tomorrow but COVID-19 has changed them. Picture: iStock
Pubs reopen in NSW tomorrow but COVID-19 has changed them. Picture: iStock

What to expect at pubs on Friday

As pubs across New South Wales throw open their doors tomorrow, expect the insides to look a little different.

In a wave of state government announcements this week, on the back of the Federal Government's three-step plan, cafes and restaurants were revealed as the first venues able to reopen on Friday for sit-down service.

By Wednesday in NSW, pubs and clubs had joined this list.

Rather than giving the green light to 4sq m per person within a venue, patrons are capped at 10.

 

Pubs across the state were closed on March 23, 2020. Picture: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
Pubs across the state were closed on March 23, 2020. Picture: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

"We're quite keen to get open in any format," Australian Venue Co chief executive Paul Waterson told news.com.au today. "To get the team back to work and start to build confidence in our venues and the broader industry."

He said it's a matter of working with the restrictions in place and managing them responsibly to give regulators confidence to ease COVID-19 measures further.

"We know this won't be forever," he said.

The business has 160 venues across the country, losing $42,000 per month for a typical venue and $7 million each month as a company since doors closed almost eight weeks ago on March 23.

"The worst thing was we'd already had three different restrictions put in place over the course of that week," Mr Waterson said.

Australian Venue Co's NSW venues include The Winery and The Forresters in Surry Hills, The Rook in the CBD, Cargo Bar and Bungalow 8 in Darling Harbour and Manly Wine.

 

Inside The Forresters in Surry Hills on May 2. Picture: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
Inside The Forresters in Surry Hills on May 2. Picture: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

 

CHANGES TO EATING AND DRINKING

If you're among the lucky 10 to be first through the doors from Friday, or snagging a seat when anyone leaves, you should expect to order through an app, have contactless payment and/or a dedicated waiter.

Table service and alcohol with a meal will be allowed in NSW pubs but bars and gaming facilities will be closed.

John Green, director of liquor and policing at the NSW Australian Hotels Association, said they expect to see venues open operating in a "COVID-safe manner".

"Increased cleaning of surfaces and hands, single use menus or app-based ordering, contactless payments and the removal of general items including salt and pepper shakers, baskets of cutlery, etc" he told news.com.au on Thursday.

"A number of hotels have indicated they will move slowly to reopen to allow time to order stock and implement strict measures to ensure the safety of their patrons and staff."

 

Australian Venue Co CEO Paul Waterson. Picture: Supplied
Australian Venue Co CEO Paul Waterson. Picture: Supplied

 

Mr Waterson said cleaning has "nearly quadrupled" on shared surfaces, staff have been trained online and face-to-face "in terms of how to manage through this situation" and hand wash facilities will be placed at each entry.

His venues have also already rolled out use of Mr Yum's on-phone ordering.

"You order all your food and beverage to your table via your phone," he said.

He said table service will be used but with an aim of having one server that stays with a table rather than multiple staff.

"We won't have cutlery out at the table, there will be no shared sauces," Mr Waterson said, noting that "unfortunately" this means they have to have disposable cutlery in the short-term.

The premier wants to see social distancing this weekend as people venture out for recreation purposes. Picture: Dylan Robinson
The premier wants to see social distancing this weekend as people venture out for recreation purposes. Picture: Dylan Robinson

CHANGES TO QUEUING AND SEATING

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Thursday urged people to be careful "when you're standing in a queue".

"The last thing you want is to get the disease or spread the disease as you're waiting in a queue for a service or to purchase something," she said.

"Assume you have the virus or someone you're coming into contact with has the virus."

Mr Waterson said the Australian Venue Co pubs and restaurants will "primarily take bookings" but will take walk-ups where possible.

"When we get a bigger capacity, we will have essentially a marshal working in the venues to make sure everyone is practising whatever the restrictions are at that time," he said.

"Clearly you're not going to need that with 10 people."

Bungalow 8 pre-COVID-19. Picture: Anna Kucera
Bungalow 8 pre-COVID-19. Picture: Anna Kucera

He said some of their venues are so large, the 10 patrons allowed could each have 20sq m of space.

Mr Waterson said he would love the NSW government to set a date to review Friday's easing of restrictions, "and all going well, the next level of restriction is 50 people, or 100 people".

He said they know there are no iron-clad guarantees when you are dealing with the containment of the virus but a "clear pathway" on the next likely phase would be "extraordinarily helpful for us to get the venues ready".

The long-term plan on easing restrictions is of importance to him, as many of the company's venues have "fixed furniture" that was installed before social distancing was in the vernacular and 1.5m rules existed.

Mr Waterson said signs will be placed on the excess or close fixed furniture to tell patrons it cannot be used but they will need to be taken away entirely if the restrictions are long-term as "they're closer than 1.5m".

The sooner the next steps are communicated to owners and operators, the quicker they can get maintenance workers in and make the changes, he said.

Pubs and clubs in NSW will reopen on Friday, May 15. Picture: iStock
Pubs and clubs in NSW will reopen on Friday, May 15. Picture: iStock

WHERE TO FROM HERE?

Ms Berejiklian admitted some establishments in the state will be unable to reopen due to unrealistic costs.

"We appreciate that many large venues won't be viable and won't choose to open," she said.

"Now, obviously, as time goes on, we'll continue to work with industry, all industries, to see what the advice of health experts is and what the case numbers look like, to see if we can move forward in New South Wales in perhaps a different way that's being moved forward in other states.

"But we do need to take these smaller steps forward."

Mr Green, from NSW AHA, said it was important partons and licensees "see this opportunity as a privilege" and strictly comply with the requirements of NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard's public health orders.

"Obviously, hotel operators will consider the financial viability of opening for a maximum of 10 patrons at any time based on their individual circumstances," he said.

"In regional NSW, cafes and restaurants are thin on the ground meaning that pubs are where people go for their meals and we expect they will be well represented amongst the hotels that do reopen."

Doug Thomas and Sam Vojsk at last drinks in Sydney in March. Picture: John Feder/The Australian
Doug Thomas and Sam Vojsk at last drinks in Sydney in March. Picture: John Feder/The Australian

Mr Waterson said it costs $100,000 minimum a week to open the doors of a place like Cargo and Bungalow 8, broken down into about $30,000 in rent, staffing costs of at least $25,000 to $30,000 and utility costs and other overheads totalling a minimum of $30,000 to $40,000.

"We anticipate for something like 10 patrons, we may achieve $10,000 a week turnover," he told news.com.au.

"That gives you some context why doing it is not profitable."

He said they were fortunate to have an "excellent, supportive landlord" to defray their rent to make it through the shutdown and JobKeeper to subsidise wages, with about 60 per cent of staff eligible.

Australian Venue Co was also lucky to be large enough to be in a position to cover the wages of 20 per cent of its staff who are employer-sponsored visa holders, costing the business around $2 million, Mr Waterson said.

"We're going to have more than enough staff because everyone's just so keen to get back into work and spend some time with their colleagues again," he said.

Paul Waterson said venues such as Bungalow 8 can cost $100,000 a week to run and having 10 patrons would bring in a tenth of that. Picture: Supplied
Paul Waterson said venues such as Bungalow 8 can cost $100,000 a week to run and having 10 patrons would bring in a tenth of that. Picture: Supplied

Mr Waterson said there also appears to be "a bit of pent-up demand" among patrons to return, having surveyed public perception about going to the pub post-COVID-19.

"It's overwhelmingly positive," he said.

"Social distancing is pretty much the opposite of what the pub industry aims to do - we aim to bring people together - but hopefully we'll get there."

Pubs and clubs will also reopen in the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory tomorrow and in Queensland by Saturday. Cafes and restaurants have reopened in South Australia and the state government is working on a "viable" plan for pubs.

Pubs and clubs will open in Western Australia and Tasmania for 20 and 10 customers respectively on Monday however Victoria's plans are on ice until June.


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