Starting May 18, restaurants, bars and cafes in Western Australia will be permitted to serve up to 20 guests in-house. Some venues will reopen, some will not. The recent and sudden changes to the hospitality industry have generated plenty of discussion about its viability and future. We asked some operators around Perth to share their perspectives and hopes for the future.

“It’s a smart way to reopen” – Emma Ferguson, Balthazar

We’re reopening Balthazar but we’re not going to reopen [our venues No Mafia and Los Bravos in] Northbridge. I’m sure you’re hearing this from most people, but that casual vibe isn’t viable. We’re used to doing 100 or 200 [covers] a night, twenty is just no fun. It kind of ruins the vibe. At Balthazar, we can make that work – it’ll be a nice little slip back into things.

From a business point of view, 20 people isn’t ideal, but it’s a smart way to reopen. You don’t want to reopen for 100 people and 100 people don’t come. Twenty people is realistic for how safe the public is feeling right now, and for our staff too. We don’t want to be bombarded with people. Seeing 100 people would be a confronting experience after not seeing anyone for eight weeks.

We’ve had a meeting with our management team and we’re going to call every booking each day and go through all the new rules with them. It’s going to be different, but we’re looking forward to it.

“Maximise the value of every seat” – Joel Valvasori-Pereza, Lulu La Delizia

When you come, don’t expect it to be the Lulu’s that you normally come to [Lulu La Delizia will reopen as L’Osteria Lulu]. We’ve had it dictated to us that we can’t operate the same way we did before, so we might as well make ourselves something different. It’s not going to be a jam-packed room, it’s going to be a very sparse room. We’re trying to figure out how to fill it with stuff just so it doesn’t seem so empty.

We’ve been getting lots of requests for bookings for x number of people plus infants. I checked with the government if infants count as covers – they do. It’s unfortunate, but when you’ve only got 20 seats that you can play with, you can’t afford to have children or infants taking up seats without paying [for a chef’s menu]. It’s tough for everyone, but the only way businesses can survive doing this is if they maximise the value of every seat that they’re allowed to have. If people want to bring kids, they’re either going to have to purchase a ticket for that seat, so to speak, or not bring them.

“We want to do things properly and in our time” – Kenny McHardy, Manuka Woodfire Kitchen

Manuka Woodfire Kitchen definitely won’t be opening [for dine-in] on May 18. We’re looking at June 2 to do things properly. Since this craziness has started, all we have done is constantly scramble to adapt to the situation. We want to do things properly and in our time. We have walls to paint, measurements to make, new menu concepts, plus new laws to abide by. But I can assure you when we do open, we are going to be as proud as punch to be operating again.

“People should see phase two as restaurants and cafes opening, not bars opening” – Dimitri Rtshiladze, Foxtrot Unicorn

People should see phase two as restaurants and cafes opening, not bars opening. I’m fine with booze-oriented bars being grouped with nightclubs and pubs. Some people will be looking to rush back to open, but I’d prefer to wait till more people are out. From where Foxtrot Unicorn stands, it’s nearly impossible to open properly without opening properly.

Because we’re less than a year old, five of our eight staff members don’t qualify for Jobkeeper, which kind of sucks because we took them out of jobs they’d been in for a long time. If they were still in those jobs they’d be a lot better off. Any business that’s less than a year old that tries to reopen will have a few more risks as far as wages without subsidies.

There’s also the grey area surrounding what constitutes a substantial meal, which has always been part of hospitality. Is a jaffle a substantial meal? Is 200 grams of cheese with a knife and fork a substantial meal? The government wants you to go in, eat, have a drink and leave. They don’t want you to hang around. It’s going to be hard to make it work if you don’t have your staff subsidised.

“We miss people, we miss the energy” – Tania Nicolo, Monsterella

Even though it’s only 20 people, we decided to reopen Monsterella because people are itching to get out. When phase two was announced, I got so many emails. We’ll open to try to get back to normal. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but we’re going to play it by ear. Monsterella almost needs the restaurant to slow it down. With the takeaway, you can serve too many people. During those really intense periods on busier nights, the product isn’t what we want. But you can’t say no, you’re already in it. I just want the restaurant back to 50 percent takeaway and delivery and 50 per cent dine-in. That’s how I like to operate. 100 percent takeaway and delivery is heavy. And we miss people, we miss the energy. Having people in the restaurant provides a certain energy and vibe.

“Nothing’s finalised until I see the government’s Covid-19 safety plan” – David Gillman, Lalla Rookh

The plan is that Lalla Rookh will open next week on Friday or Saturday nights, running a version of our Il Capo [chef’s] menu, but nothing’s finalised for us until I see the state government’s Covid-19 safety plan. I’m not going to advertise or reopen our bookings until I’m 100 per cent sure I can satisfy those requirements, although I’m sure we can.

The big play for us will be when the next set of restrictions are eased and we’re allowed to have 100 people in the venue. That’s big. That’s going to be a big benchmark for Lalla Rookh and other venues.

I don’t want to just bring back some of my full-time staff. I want to bring back all of them at the same time. I don’t want to pick and choose people. I’m trying to treat all my staff equally and look after their mental health. Bringing back everyone together was the only decision we were gonna make. One team, one dream. It’s so hard that some of my kids here on visas are sitting out. They’d love to be at work but I can’t afford to pay them without a government subsidy.