I loved my business. As a career hospitality professional, running my own business was an opportunity to express myself in ways working for someone else could not. I loved the persona it gave me, the confidence it instilled and the knowledge that I was in complete control. Except that I wasn’t.

Forces outside of hospitality owners’ control are having devastating effects on the venues we love. The post-Covid wave is crashing, and venues we once considered immovable cultural objects are making the same heartbreaking decisions I had to: it quite simply costs more to keep opening the doors than it does to shut them permanently.

Losing a restaurant like Teage Ezard’s Gingerboy from the Hoddle Grid feels like losing a letter from our cultural alphabet. To me, it had always been there, a mainstay of our dining ecosystem, seemingly invulnerable to trends and fluctuations. But no business is immune from the current financial pressures. And sadly, no restaurant is forever.

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The harsh truth myself and others are learning is that this industry we love is not fair. Our nation’s housing market is so deeply corrupted, and the cost of living so expensive, that young people in the prime consumer demographic have never had less money to spend on dining out. There are only so many venues we can afford to visit, the festival season is winding up and winter is coming. There will be more closures. So how can we, as consumers, show our support for the venues we love when we are under just as much strain?

It’s now commonplace for venues, particularly casual eateries and cafes, to sell branded merchandise. The quality has never been higher, with businesses seeking out specialised branding agencies to deliver fashion-forward hats, shirts, totes and coffee accessories to sell alongside their food and beverages. High mark-ups for these products mean the business keeps more of your dollar than they would from a coffee or toastie. Merchandise is a meaningful way to make your contribution to a business go further, and look cool doing it.

In lieu of tat that will only contribute to environmental decay, give the gift of a good time: a restaurant voucher. Not only does a voucher offer an instant cash injection to a venue, it creates a consumer relationship where one may not have existed before. Plus, with any luck the person you give the voucher to will feel obliged to bring you along, so it’s a gift to yourself as well.

The monthly cycle of a restaurant can become a punishing, depressing reflection point. When forecasting wages, assessing stock and negotiating with suppliers, it is easy to lose faith that the investment is worth it, especially when bookings begin to dry up. It has never been more important to make a reservation ahead of time; names in the book offer a business a reason to keep going, often when it seems that all indications are pointing to the contrary.

Following your favourite venue on social media and sharing their posts is a good way to spread the word, but it rarely translates to new customers. For that, the dreaded online review is the best possible way to make a business more visible and viable. Google reviews with bright, clear images are a valuable asset to prospective punters, and if the venue offers takeaway, delivery platform reviews help a great deal as well.

But the most valuable thing we can offer to the venues we love right now is something free, but rarely given: empathy. Things are tough, and for so many hospitality professionals right now, a job that used to be fun and engaging has become a stressful slog.

If you’re told it’s a 45-minute wait for a table on a Saturday night, take it as a sign you’re in the right place at the wrong time, and book in for next Wednesday night. If your food’s taking a while and the staff seem flustered and rushed, don’t take it personally; they’re probably understaffed and under serious pressure to make ends meet. With a little patience, generosity and grace, you can make a tough situation a little easier. Think of it as a karmic investment in a brighter, more sustainable hospitality industry.

Jay Clough is the creator of the industry newsletter Bureau of Eating and Drinking.

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