Melbourne's summer of outdoor dining


14th October, 2020

Hospitality operators prepare for Melbourne’s ‘summer of outdoor dining’

With lockdown restrictions set to ease in the coming weeks, the City of Melbourne is helping hospitality businesses prepare for a summer like no other.

After months of limited or no activity in lockdown, the prospect of eased restrictions for metro-Melbourne has hospitality business owners rolling up their sleeves in anticipation of a summer of healthier trading.

While café and restaurant operators eagerly wait to find out when conditions will change, we do know that they won’t be anything like before the pandemic, or even in between lockdowns.

In a media release addressing the city’s summer plans, Premier Daniel Andrews said that with Melbourne being the cultural and dining capital of Australia, adapting to the changes is already within the city’s wheelhouse.

“When it comes to reimagining what eating and entertainment means under COVID normal, there’s no one better equipped than Melbourne and Victoria,” he said.

Key takeaways:

  • Outdoor dining is on the menu — Permits will allow hospitality businesses to make better use of city spaces for dining experiences
  • Remodelling grants are available — Funds of up to $10,000 will be made available to successful applicants (applications closing 23/10/20, read on for more)
  • Health and safety measures front-and-centre — Strict adherence to new regulations will be the key to long term success

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The good news is City of Melbourne is currently running a series of initiatives designed to aid local businesses in their preparation for this unusual style of trading, with many of their efforts specifically targeting the hospitality sector.

At this stage, it looks like Melbourne’s grand reopening will see the hospitality sector rapidly adapting to a different style of trading, with outdoor alternatives and specific social distancing measures being the order of the day.

UPDATE: As of 19 October, restrictions in Victoria have eased, with more to follow on 1 November. Find out more on the Department of Health and Human Services website.

Alfresco dining reimagined

Inspired by London and New York’s approach to keep hospitality businesses open during their summer months, the City of Melbourne is distributing free permits to allow eateries and cafes the opportunity to create or expand their outdoor seating capacity.

Permits will allow for dining services to be offered on footpaths, street-side car parking spaces, laneways, and in some cases, even on the street – setting the scene for a summer of alfresco dining across the city.

In an interview with 3AW, City of Melbourne chief executive Justin Hanney expressed optimism with regards to the potential uptake of this new way of dining.

“We expect outdoor dining to be so popular with patrons this summer that it will become a permanent feature of our city for generations to come,” he said.

The Age reported that 16 outdoor dining precincts will be set up in and around the city to facilitate the increased demand. Six of the zones will be allocated to businesses that already have access to some outdoor seating, while ten additional locations will be devoted to those that don’t.

As part of this initiative, businesses that are situated next door to cafes and eateries are being encouraged to partner up with their neighbours to help expand their outdoor seating capacity into the available footpath space outside their own shops as well.

Grants to cover remodelling costs

To help ease the burden of adapting to this different way of trading, the City of Melbourne is offering one off grant payments of up to $10,000 to support adjustment costs, including remodelling, marketing, and staff training.

Grant applications will remain open until 23 October 2020 and are being assessed quickly to allow for eligible businesses to prepare as far in advance as feasible. Applications for funding can be found here.

The Council and State Government have also pledged to bear the cost of installing any bollards, platers and safety barriers required within the 16 outdoor dining zones across the city.

Increased safety measures for indoor dining

Efforts are also made to arrange for restaurants and cafes to host patrons indoors in both a safe and practicable manner.

To achieve this, the City of Melbourne has put forward a series of plans aimed to help reactivate indoor dining, including the distribution of COVID safety kits, which will have a digital thermometer, manuals for digital check-ins and contact tracing of patrons and staff, fact sheets on enhanced cleaning and infection control, masks, hand sanitiser, floor markers and signage.

Other measures include enforcing mandatory COVID-safe training for all participating businesses, social distancing requirements, dine-in time limits, and several others.

Lord Mayor of Melbourne Sally Capp believes that due to the regulations that hospitality businesses are already required to abide by, adoption of these practices is expected to be relatively seamless.

“Food premises are already heavily regulated with food safety and food handling plans and the transition to a COVID-safe environment is therefore much smoother and achievable,” she said in a media release.

Efforts to lure patrons back to the CBD

In what is usually a district filled with the hustle and bustle of almost a million daily visitors, the unprecedented series of rolling lockdowns has seen pedestrian numbers in the city nosedive by 90 percent, The Age reported.

With the five-kilometre travel limit expected to be lifted as restrictions continue to ease, City of Melbourne is already planning a series of initiatives to bring life back into the streets of the CBD and drive daily visitor numbers back up.

Among these initiatives, the council plans to run its annual Black Friday weekend ‘Shop the City’ festival, facilitating pop-up runways, roving performers, foodie offerings and other entertainment, all while adhering to health department regulations.

City of Melbourne has also appealed to commercial landlords that are currently between tenancies to vacate their window fronts so the council can dress up and decorate their empty windows in a bid to encourage people to visit the city.

Finally, as of 23 October 2020, City of Melbourne will be waiving busking fees in an effort to revive the music-filled ambiance the CBD once had. Payments of $200 will be made to registered buskers for each entertainment session.

While nobody yet knows when the restriction will ease enough to allow these kinds of trading conditions, at the very least the city is able to begin preparing for them.