Will venues continue to do takeaway? When will phase three of the restriction wind back kick in? Can I shake people’s hands? Does a bowl of chips count as a substantial meal? Hey Sam, can I still buy a loaf of the Wines of While sourdough to eat at home on the couch? Do I really have to give you my details? Still or sparkling? How have you been holding up? How good is it to be able to dine and drink out in restaurants, bars, cafes and pubs again?
The reopening of venues to dine-in customers, one of the key features of step two in WA’s restrictions roll back, has prompted questions from both guests and hospitality operators grappling with the latest lot of changes. After 10 days of restricted trade, key figures from around Western Australia checked in with Broadsheet to share stories of their experiences re-entering the fray.
“Seats in restaurants now come at a premium” – Melissa Palinkas, chef-owner at Young George
Young George’s first week back to diners on seats and food on plates made me realise I just want things back to normal again. We never really shut down or had any kind of break. We’ve been working away in survival mode. I want the takeaway to go away now and to get our place back to the humming establishment it used to be. People don’t really understand that we’re not back to normal yet. Seats in restaurants now come at a premium. We are fully booked three weeks in advance for all sittings. We have been doing two sittings on Friday and Saturday and three on Sunday. That’s 40 covers and 60 on Sunday. People want to book for our specials like the Tuesday Pizza Party or the Sunday Roast Piggy Deal, but we simply can’t do that right now. Guests are telling us how much they’re enjoying being able to come out and be social. That they have missed our place. Our food. Mostly they are asking if we’re doing okay and telling us how proud they are of Susan and I for adapting and changing. The community is very supportive of us, as we are of them. I think there will be more casualties along the way. I think Perth people are more than ready to get back out there and eat, drink and socialise. I am gagging to open our new venture, Ethos. Although we’re anxious about what’s going on, we are grateful for what we have.
“We’re all much happier to be doing service over takeaway” – Alexandra Haynes, chef at Lalla Rookh
We did 77 covers over the weekend. The first hour was a bit of a shit show, what with getting back into the swing of things, but it was all good after that. I’m glad we’re doing a two-hour sitting with the Il Capo [tasting menu]. It gives more time for customers and doesn’t feel so rushed. One and a half hours feels a bit like In-N-Out Burger. Customers are respecting the new rules and regulations. We’re all much happier to be doing service over takeaway. We also need to build our kitchen fitness back up. The rule in kitchens is never complain, but we were all holding our lower backs. The legs hurt and hands have lost their “chef hands” asbestos qualities. You don’t realise how much you are moving in a kitchen and using different muscles until you stop. Standing up for 13 hours hit us all. Cooking is, physically, a very demanding job.
“Our shop is at the mercy of restaurants opening” – Chez De Bartolo, co-owner of Chicho Gelato
It’s been super slow. We’re doing maybe 30 per cent of what we’d do normally, but that’s okay. We’re happy to be open and getting the cogs going. Carly [wife and gelato maker] has had to remove herself from the business to give our pastry chef hours because we’ve got Jobkeeper, which has been a lifeline. Northbridge in general is pretty quiet. The footfall isn’t there at the moment. Our shop, in particular, is at the mercy of restaurants opening. I feel they’re doing it pretty hard with the 20-person limit. People still seem afraid of going into the city and Northbridge as opposed to suburban areas. A place like Chu Bakery is just up the road and still on William Street, but it’s like a totally different suburb. There’s a park nearby. People just feel safer. Northbridge just completely died. It hit us pretty quickly. We’ve gone from the best spot to the worst spot. But you’ve got to be positive. We’ll come out of this and we’ll be stronger.
“I don’t know whether things will go back to normal or not” – Vanya Cullen, managing director at Cullen Wines
We opened last weekend with a retro pumpkin soup and platter, which was manageable with the staffing levels we could have with 20 people at a time. What we’re doing changes every day. This weekend, it’s a three-course set menu with different wine matches. We actually didn’t close the cellar door during the lockdown but set up a takeaway – partly as a community service and partly to keep someone employed and keep everything going. We had someone at the cellar door the whole time. We ended up doing frozen takeaway and had chefs in one day a week. It was sort of nice but, you know. Easter Sunday is normally our busiest day of the year. This year we sold just one coffee. It’s difficult for everyone. I don’t know whether things will go back to normal or not. I feel now it’s different to what it was before. My feeling about us and Cullen is it might not be the same. People want to go out and be together in a way that is emotionally comfortable, rather than being in a situation where there are expectations about what you look like or feel like. It’s just going to be about people being together and having a great experience. We’re telling people, quite frankly, we can only do a set menu, and that may be where we continue to go. It’s much easier to have a set menu in terms of costings and managing your staff. Like everyone, we’ve had a lot of losses in the restaurant and we can’t afford to have that anymore. It’s not a discussion. In a way, it’s given us an opportunity to completely reset and work out a way to manage the new situation.
“We have seen the best of the community” – Navarre Top, chef-owner of Ninth and Merchant
We had the busiest week we’ve had all year, even including the months pre-Covid shutdown. People are rejoicing in the fact they can dine out again, even with limited restrictions. As a whole, our patrons have been amazing and adapting to the new way of dining and going out, but we’ve had a small handful of people who believe they don’t have to adhere to the rules put in place by our government, and kick up a small fuss when we ask for the required details so we can operate. Being a small business owner, constantly changing and adapting has been hard, but it’s been amazing to see happy faces dining with us again. What’s also amazing is seeing communities coming together, not just in this reopening period, but over the past 12 weeks we’ve been operating in a changed environment. We’ve seen the best of the community. The support we have seen has been amazing.
“Ninety per cent of our customers disappeared overnight” – Andrew Hoadley, winemaker at La Violetta
When Coronavirus hit, it felt like the apocalypse. We’ve always had a strong focus on bars and restaurants, so it was like 90 per cent of our customers disappeared overnight. You couldn’t really see it coming. Apart from the immediate effect of no orders, there was also the concern about the coming weeks or months. Nobody knew what the full effect was going to be. People were talking six months, 12 months, even five years down the track. Like everyone, I went into survival mode and focused on direct sales to bottle shops and customers. I’ve always treated my mailing list pretty badly, which I’ve felt guilty about. I was very lazy with newsletters and might bug [customers] twice a year. This year I made a real effort to get in touch before the wines had been released and offer them some nice deals. I always felt too busy to do newsletters, but we’re definitely going to be working on that in future. [Since the reopening announcement], we’ve been getting a lot of orders from on-premise venues in Perth and over east who are looking to open up. It’s been quite a busy day and it’s been wonderful to see a lot of orders coming through. Producing wine is expensive. You put all this money and work down two years before you even start selling it. There’s not a lot of understanding about what a difference it makes to buy direct from a winery. There’s some tentative optimism. Everyone’s hoping to move ahead cautiously and slowly. Nobody wants to be crazy optimistic.
“We haven’t had to deal with no-shows like other venues” – Luke Wakefield, chef of Balthazar
Our prepay booking system has really helped give us the confidence to staff up and be ready, as we know what we’ll be dealing with. We haven’t had to deal with no-shows like other venues that haven’t taken deposits, card details or prepayments. Reconnecting with suppliers was also extremely important during reopening. Smaller, often family-operated businesses such as the Mushroom Guys, Kailis, Mottainai Lamb, Dirty Clean Food and Local Goat were so amazing and supportive to us over this period. At some point during the lockdown, these suppliers popped over to my house and to other chefs, dropping off free ingredients to keep their product flowing and also check in to see how we were. The vibe was reciprocal as soon as we were able to get back in the kitchen. We utilised their produce as much as we could on our takeaway cook-at-home offering and now on our menu.
“It was like opening a new restaurant” – Liam Atkinson, chef at Le Rebelle
Launching the Oui Rebelle pop-up was like opening a new restaurant. It really felt like that. I spoke to some friends in the industry and they felt the same. The nerves are there. Wanting to make sure you perform. You’ve got a waitlist of people who are desperate to see you, and you don’t want to let them down. It’s been full-on but it’s nice to be back. I’m really excited that we’re back and moving again. Now we’re working out the long-term future of how to manage what we’re doing. The new system is quite interesting, with the bookings being controlled and customers having to abide by them. It’s actually a bit of a godsend to smaller spaces. We know how many are coming and when they’re coming and when they’re leaving. That helps control costs as well. We have a set menu but we’re also offering à la carte. We didn’t want to rush people through a set menu in a 1.5-hour seating. We’re trying to offer something that I think a lot of places aren’t. The feeling of normality for some people is being able to make their own choices rather than being told what they have to eat.
“Some guests didn’t even realise we did takeaway” – Amy Hamilton, chef-owner at Liberté
Our first week back was great. It was good to be able to open the doors again. There are a lot of excited customers who are really keen to have a dining out experience in our restaurant again. We’re also enjoying continued momentum in our online takeaway sales, which have seen a 2457 per cent increase since Covid-19. Guests are telling us they’re thankful we got through the last couple of months and are still able to provide them with our food and drink via takeaway. Some guests didn’t even realise we did takeaway, so they’re stoked they can take our food and drink home whenever they want. There’s no doubt this pandemic will have a lasting impact on dining and drinking. While I can’t comment on other people’s businesses and how it has affected them, I can say that although it hasn’t been easy for Liberté in some areas, it has strengthened certain aspects of my business that could be very beneficial in the long term – not least Liberté’s takeaway sector. Hopefully the public continues to support the drinking and dining scene as much as possible, because without them it would be a cultural wasteland.