‘We’ve been told so many different dates’: Business owners still face an uncertain fate

Brigitte Fava says she’s kept her Italian family restaurant running through Melbourne’s second wave of coronavirus infections mostly for the mental health of her family.Key points:Hospitality businesses should be able to reopen to seated diners from November 1But business groups are calling for the indoor patron limit to be increased to make restaurant reopenings viableThe peak tourism body is urging the Government to ease Melbourne’s “ring of steel” before the Melbourne Cup weekend”I’ve got myself, my husband and both of my boys. Brad manages the place and Matthew’s in the kitchen,” she said.”It’s more for their mental wellbeing that I’ve said, ‘Let’s just keep going, even though realistically it’s not worth our while because, hey, our sanity is more important than the money we’re making’.”Thousands of hospitality businesses like hers learnt today they should be able to reopen to seated diners on November 2.There will be a limit of 50 patrons outdoors and a maximum of 20 inside, subject to density limits. Only 10 people can be in a single indoor area.LIVE UPDATES: Read our blog for the latest news on the COVID-19 pandemic.Ms Fava said the second wave had been “absolutely disastrous” for her Williamstown restaurant, with the 5-kilometre travel limit further restricting the customers able to drop by for takeaway.”People could only have takeaway so much from the same place,” she said.She said she could now see “a little bit of light”, and a return to at least some indoor dining was “a small bonus” after a grim few months.But she cannot see how she will be able to bring back the 10 or so casual and part-time staff her restaurant employed before the coronavirus pandemic struck.”I just feel that our hands are really tied because I don’t know whether we’ll be able to afford them or not,” she said.Outdoor dining challenges remain unresolvedWhile the Victorian Government has touted its hospitality reopening strategy as a vision of cosmopolitan “alfresco” dining, Ms Fava is more concerned by the economic realities posed by outdoor dining under Melbourne’s unpredictable weather.”The weather changes, customers are halfway through their meals and stuff, who’s liable for the charge of their meals or the meal that hasn’t gone out yet?” she said.Based on the current street frontage available to her, Ms Fava estimates she could accommodate about six tables of four people.She has contacted the local council to suggest making the street one-way and taking over part of the car park, but is yet to hear back.By contrast, her restaurant has an indoor capacity of more than 100 people, but will be restricted to 20 customers at most, across two separate indoor areas.”Where does that leave us with the rent? Will the Government take over and pay the rent? Does that mean we pay less than 20 per cent of the rent?” she asked.’Glimmer of hope’ for earlier easing of restrictionsAustralian Chamber of Commerce and Industry director Paul Guerra called on the Government to allow the hospitality sector to double the number of patrons allowed per indoor space from 10 to 20.”It’s the only way hospitality will be able to operate viably and we’ve got until next week to convince the Government,” he said.Mr Guerra said two more weeks of closure were too much for hospitality and retail operators, who felt forgotten by the Government.”The Premier gave us a glimmer of hope that he wants to stand up next Sunday if the numbers stay low and announce that we can get going earlier,” he said.”So every Victorian, do the right thing this week so the Premier does stand up next Sunday and we can get the state going.”Read more about coronavirus:Hairdressers reopening while beauticians waitWhile Melburnians will be able to head to the hairdresser for a cut from Monday, Templestowe beautician Brooke Allan was disappointed to see her industry’s reopening date pushed back to November 1.Over the past few weeks, she has been told to expect a reopening on November 23, October 26, October 19 and now November 1, or possibly earlier.”It’s like here’s a date, here’s a carrot. But oh wait, you can’t quite get it yet,” she said.”We can’t book our clients in, we’ve just been told so many different dates.”It’s really difficult just being in this limbo all the time.” Brooke Allan says she looks forward to pampering her clients once her business can finally reopen.(ABC News: Peter Drought)Ms Allan has been developing a suite of treatments for her clients that can be carried out with a mask. She said her industry already had high hygiene standards that made developing a COVID-safe plan straightforward.She does not understand why hairdressers and beauticians, which had been paired during earlier restrictions announcement, had now been separated out.”We’re in individual rooms with our clients, we’re not in a big open space with multiple people,” she said.Despite the challenges, Ms Allan said she loved her business and had stayed in close contact with her clients during the lockdown, which made her all the more keen to offer them some care once her business could reopen.”The industry, it isn’t all about just beautifying yourself, it’s about the connections that you have with one another too,” she said.”Even the mums that have been at home with their kids all this time and no-one’s looked after them. So we want to be able to offer them things that they may not have been able to get, just a little bit differently.”Regional tourism operators want clarity on Melbourne’s ‘ring of steel’The Victoria Tourism Industry Council’s chief executive Felicia Mariani said tourism operators, who had been hit hard since January when flights from China were stopped, saw “really no relief” in the updated map out of restrictions.Coronavirus rules explainedMs Mariani said the organisation’s members wanted to know first and foremost when the travel restrictions between metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria would ease, so that outdoor summer events in regional Victoria could welcome travellers from Melbourne.”That is the key thing that affects our industry and in working with many of our industry colleagues we are pushing for a date and looking for October 30 as that date for the lifting of travel restrictions,” she said.Ms Mariani said that would allow regional businesses to make the most of the Melbourne Cup long weekend and understand what to do with some bookings around that time made by people in Melbourne.”So not understanding whether or not they can actually accommodate those bookings is causing an enormous amount of stress for the operators across the state,” she said.She said tourism businesses were “150 per cent” prepared to do whatever was needed to keep things COVID-safe as restrictions eased, and nobody expected to be opening at 100 per cent capacity.CBD businesses prepare for ‘make-or-break’ Christmas periodMelbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp said CBD businesses had been preparing their COVID-safe plans for weeks and were ready to go.She said after months of “empty Melbourne streets” and devastated livelihoods, city businesses were keen to reopen before Christmas.”This quarter is often the make-or-break quarter for a lot of businesses in the CBD,” she said.Cr Capp said council officers would support businesses to set up and adhere to their COVID-safe plans and the community should have confidence “that we can do this well”.Australian Industry Group head Tim Piper said some manufacturers were “being asked to work with one arm behind their back” in the lead-up to Christmas, with restrictions preventing them from upping their workforces to full capacity. Tim Piper says the manufacturing sector is waiting for further clarity on how things will change between now and Christmas.(ABC News)”That’s going to make things difficult especially in the need to supply the retail chains and grocery stores for Christmas,” he said.”We’ve had a roadmap, which became a maze, which has now become a long and winding road,” he said.”We still don’t have any certainty. We’re hoping in two weeks that things are going to reopen but there’s no certainty around that.”He said retailers had run out money and now had a “cash famine”. More small businesses would go to the wall as a result of just two more weeks of shutdown, he said.”We wanted hope, we wanted optimism, we wanted positivity today. But we’ve got a two-week sojourn again,” he said.What you need to know about coronavirus:

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