Dining out: what you need to know

Published on 28 October 2020

Photo: Daniel Mahon

Melbourne is back open and restaurant reservations are hot property. But now that you’ve booked a table, do you remember how to dine out?

After more than three months of TV binges, takeaway containers and wearing trackpants every day of the week, our lives are about to get a whole lot more exciting here in Melbourne. Are you ready? Have you cut your hair, or at least combed it today? Do you remember how to sit at a table? The pointy one is the knife, the napkin goes in your lap and, no, you can’t watch Netflix with your steak frites. As you dust off your nice shoes and brush up on your table conversation, there are a few other things to keep in mind too. Dining out is, like so many things in our world, a little different now. Here’s what to expect when you book a table or walk in to your favourite café and experience once again the feeling of being looked after – all in a COVID-safe way of course. Sit back and enjoy.

Every business that has reopened must have a COVID Safe Plan in place – it’s a requirement of the Victorian Government and they may be checking to see if businesses are complying. The plan covers things such as social distancing rules, cleaning, hand hygiene, rules around face masks, record-keeping and keeping staff safe. Find out more on the Victorian Government website.


Venues are allowed to refuse entry and service to anyone who arrives without a face mask. Patrons must wear a face mask unless they’re eating or drinking. The big question is: does your face mask match your shoes?

Patron numbers

There are limits on the number of people allowed in restaurants and outdoor areas. For now, that’s 10 people per enclosed space (or one person per four square metres, whichever is the lesser) inside, and 50 people (or one person per two square metres, whichever is the lesser) outside. The largest group booking size allowed is 10 people. Some venues are maximising their very limited seats by putting larger groups inside and smaller tables outside. While this may be frustrating to you, keep in mind that they’re trying to make the numbers work for their bottom line after what has been (and still remains) an incredibly tough year.

Seated service only

Hold your horses: there’s no strolling up to the bar to order your Carlton Draught or Hanky Panky. It’s seated service only at all venues, including pubs, for now, whether you're having drinks, food or both.


But you can have a drink without food. It seems crazy to say that, but keep in mind that before the most recent lockdown, the joy of ducking into the pub for a sneaky pot was one that was temporarily on hold. That said, venues may not look kindly on those who come in for a single beer when tables are in short supply. Use common sense.

The 25km rule

Until 11.59pm on Sunday 8 November, you’re not permitted to travel more than 25 kilometres from your home. Travel to regional Victoria is also off the cards till after the 8th. Keep this in mind when you’re making restaurant bookings.


Reservations aren’t required by law, but they’re definitely recommended. As a diner, it means you’re less likely to be turned away when a restaurant has reached its capacity limit. If you own a venue, it means you can control the number of people arriving at one time and know in advance that you won’t exceed your capacity limits. Many restaurants are still accepting walk-ins, but check their website or social media before you leave home. And remember you’ll still be required to register your details for contact-tracing purposes. 

Want to be a dream diner? Being flexible when you're making bookings goes a long way. Venues are offering late lunches, early dinners and supper sittings to make the caps on diner numbers as financially viable as they can. Why not book that 4.30pm slot and follow it up with a digestif? 

Sanitising hands

Venues must make hand sanitiser available to customers and staff; it’s a requirement under the COVID-safe plan that all workplaces must have in place. We recommend you use the hand san when you arrive and after touching any shared surfaces – menus, door handles, you get the idea.

Checking in

Whether you’ve reserved a table or you’re just walking in, you’ll be required to register your details with a venue if you stay for more than 15 minutes. First name, last name, email address, phone number and the date and time you visited will be collected and stored by the venue for a minimum of 28 days, adhering with privacy requirements. There are no rules around what methods venues use to collect the data: some venues will use an electronic system, others will just have a pen and paper at the door. Don’t forget to sanitise your hands if you use a pen that others are also using.

Live music

Good news: live music can return to venues (subject to a few rules, of course). Performances will be outdoors only, face masks should be worn by those who can wear them and still perform (we’re looking at you, bass player) and the stage and any singers must be 5 metres away from patrons.


By Emma Breheny

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