Published on 8 September 2020
The Melbourne I love is withering away. The Melbourne I moved back from Sydney for three years ago is in suspension. It is the Melbourne of a thriving food and drink scene – of cosy cafés, world-class restaurants and fabulous bars.
This city is lucky to have creative, talented, passionate, resilient, hard-working and, some would say, addicted hospitality operators who make up the 20,000 restaurants in this state and employ over 300,000 Victorians. They work long, unsociable hours for little return - between 2-5 per cent according to IBIS World (down from 23 per cent in the mid ‘90s).
These “hospos” have created something very special, a brand that is celebrated the world over. That brand is Melbourne. Our food and drink scene is central to the Brand Melbourne story and an important pillar in our tourism story. The health challenges we face due to COVID-19 are forcing unenviable decisions to be taken by our government and policy makers and this is devastating our already-struggling hospitality industry.
At the beginning of COVID-19 restrictions, the Restaurant and Catering Association issued a dire prediction that this city would lose between 20-30 per cent of its dining venues due to the shutdown. Those numbers are now potentially worse. Recent reports out of the US foreshadow the pandemic’s grim toll on its hospitality industry. Website Eater reported last week that as many as 60 per cent of restaurants in New York could permanently close by the end of the year if they do not receive government aid.
In the next steps as part of the roadmap out of lockdown we need to find a way to support and sustain an industry that has given us so much as a city. The ideas being proposed by the industry include relief such as the extension of JobKeeper, tax, industrial and compliance reform, support for skilled migrants, restaurant stimulus packages and initiatives such as the one proposed by the City of Melbourne modelled on New York’s Open Restaurants initiative, potentially turning the CBD’s footpaths, laneways and streets into open-air dining areas.
We need to find a way to the other side of lockdown where restaurants can operate in a new normal and with support mechanisms mentioned above. When restrictions were lifted to the 20-patron limit, the industry proved its diligence in presenting COVID-safe plans with the appropriate social distancing, hygiene measures, process and procedures in place with no single case of coronavirus detected in hospitality venues.
Our restaurants, cafes and bars are the heartbeat of this city and they need our support right now. Immediately, this means getting behind your favourite venues by purchasing takeaway, merchandise, gift vouchers or making forward bookings until they are able to open their doors.
To our friends in the trade, this city has an enviable, awesome and awe-inspiring food and drink industry thanks to you. We need to find a way through for you, so you can continue to do what you do and what makes us proud to be Melburnians.
This article was originally published in The Herald Sun on Monday 9 September.
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