Restaurants were relying on Victoria’s easing restrictions to bring them back from the brink — but now they’ll have to wait

Restaurants in Victoria - Top4

Tomorrow was supposed to be the next step in the recovery for Victorian restaurants — when capacity lifted from 20 people to 50.

Key points:

  • Plans to increase patron limits in Victorian restaurants to 50 people have been deferred due to growing coronavirus case numbers in the state
  • The industry association says 10 per cent of hospitality businesses have closed permanently due to COVID-19
  • There are growing calls for cuts to the fringe benefits tax for business lunches and a wine tax reduction

That’s now on hold. But in Melbourne’s CBD, it was academic anyway.

The city that’s home to some of Australia’s most famous restaurants — like Flower Drum, Vue de monde, and MoVida — is still a ghost town, and likely to stay that way for months.

“If the CBD doesn’t increase in foot traffic and people working in the city by the end of September, I would find it very difficult to think we could be viable without JobKeeper,” MoVida’s co-owner Frank Camorra said.

Without its dining scene, he fears Melbourne’s CBD will become devoid of its “soul and vibrancy”.

“We’ve had a renaissance in Melbourne over the last 20 years in the CBD. I think we’re at a real risk of losing that,” he said.

Suburban venues starting to bounce back

It’s a different story in Melbourne’s suburbs, where the vast majority of people are now working as well as living.

Box Hill in Melbourne’s east was hit hard early when the coronavirus emerged, but is now one of the first areas to start bouncing back.

“When the pandemic started, our business dropped by 80 to 90 per cent,” said Louis Kuo, owner of Taiwanese restaurant Kitchen Republik.

“Now we’re back to 50 to 60 per cent, so it’s a good sign for us.”

Restaurants in Victoria - Top4

Mr Kuo said he survived thanks to local customers who worked in the nearby suburbs, and a frantic pivot to delivery to meet the demand.

“We have to be more innovative,” he said.

“A dining restaurant menu is cooked ready to serve, but for delivery, we have to consider the delivery time, the temperature and how long it takes to make.

Adapting to changed dining habits

MoVida has also scrambled to find new ways to make money.

“We’re trying anything we can,” Mr Camorra said.

“We’re doing some of our food for supermarkets. We’ve produced some food for a takeaway delivery platform, which has a whole bunch of really high-end restaurants on board.”

Prior to the pandemic, deliveries made up around 8 per cent of the market.

Now, it’s more like 25 to 30 per cent — and Restaurant and Catering Association chief executive Wes Lambert said it was likely to stay that way.

“Diners’ habits have changed,” Mr Lambert said.

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