Adam Kapinkoff is excited.
The general manager of the Ark Group is excited about the next stage of Covid-19 restriction wind backs. He’s excited for the 220 staff members employed across the group at venues such as Market Grounds, The Galway Hooker and The Peach Pit. But most of all, he’s excited about what this weekend will mean for a public that’s been asked to stay at home for almost three months in a bid to keep Covid-19 at bay.
“The community has had a tough couple of months,” he says. “The fact that they can go back out and relax, socialise and enjoy other people’s company in an environment with a little bit of atmosphere – it’s going to be cool to witness.”
From Saturday June 6, restaurants, bars and cafes in Western Australia can welcome up to 100 patrons as the state moves to phase three of its Covid-19 restriction wind backs: a fivefold increase from the 20-person capacity trialled during phase two, which launched on May 18. Venues with multiple areas and adequate floor space will be allowed to host up to 300 guests.
Additionally, guests will be able to order alcohol without buying a meal, and venue capacities will be based on a density of one person per two square metres: a considerable relaxation from the previous density of one person per four square metres. In short, hospitality and the arts in Western Australia are slowly returning to – quote-unquote – normal.
“[Being able to seat] 20 people was great, but there was no atmosphere,” says Kapinkoff who eased back into things by reopening some of the group’s smaller venues. The combined capacity across Ark’s venues is 2500 people. “It works out that most venues will be around 50 per cent capacity, which is an amazing result considering where we could be. Mark McGowan has done the industry a solid. The state and the federal governments managed Covid-19 so well that we’re reopening quicker than we anticipated and with a pretty decent set of restrictions. We didn’t think we’d go to one guest per two square metres and 100 per area.”
Kapinkoff’s thoughts encapsulate the guarded optimism of many larger hospitality operators as they make final preparations for Saturday’s reopening. While Clint Nolan of Lavish Habits has reopened some of the group’s smaller venues – La Cholita, Alabama Song and Joe’s Juice Joint – this weekend sees the group reboot Henry Summer, its sprawling outdoor “wine and cocktail garden” in Northbridge. Although space won’t be an issue – the venue has capacity for 1000 – the need for guests to be seated and the absence of a dance floor means Nolan and his team can’t give Perth the complete Henry Summer experience just yet.
“I just want to make sure the public are really open to going out,” says Nolan. “It’s a funny time with the rules, and you have to abide by the rules because we don’t want this to flare up again. The onus is on us to control the crowd in a way they’re not used to being controlled, such as only allowing 100 people in each area. There’s a lot of labour involved in maintaining that.”
Like many operators, Nolan is excited about being able to give staff more hours. He cites having to stand down close to 90 staff members via Facetime (Nolan: “That’s not how I would have liked to have done that”) as a particularly low point. Even worse was having to let go of overseas workers not covered by Jobkeeper and Jobseeker payments.
“We’re getting them back in first and foremost to try to get them working in some capacity, even if it’s limited hours,” he says.
In addition to allowing restaurants, bars and cafes to seat more guests, phase three restrictions will also give hotels such as State Buildings and Crown Towers the green light to start reopening venues. (In phase two, hotels – regardless of the number of individual venues inside – could serve 20 guests total). At the Pan Pacific – one of the hotels seconded as part of the state government’s 14-day quarantine requirements for interstate and international travellers – general manager Rob Weeden and his management team have had to rethink aspects of the hotel’s food and beverage offering to comply with new health regulations. Covid-19, according to Weeden, “has killed the buffet and minibar.” In future, guests will be served breakfast in Bar Uma, the hotel’s ground-floor lobby bar, and each meals will be served – in a neat nod to ’80s-style dining – under a cloche.
While Weeden is enthusiastic about implementing these new changes, as well as continuing initiatives such as selling bacon and egg rolls to raise money for homeless West Australians, he’s most excited about getting the 486-room hotel back up to speed.
“We’ve been fortunate to be a little bit busy and have guests stay at the hotel [during lockdown], but it’s not enough to sustain a hotel the size of the Pan Pacific,” says Weeden. “To put it in sports terms, we’ve been training but we’re not match fit. That’s what we’re currently going through now.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean Weeden isn’t thinking of the bigger picture – not least the day when interstate and international travellers will be allowed back into Western Australia.
“The [hard] border going down is going to be the biggest game changer,” he says. “We have a lot of corporate travellers stay with us and they don’t eat breakfast, lunch and dinner in our hotel. They’ll grab coffee and a muffin from a cafe, and they’re meeting with colleagues for dinner at different restaurants and bars. To have the Pan Pacifics and the Westins and the Hiltons and the Intercontinentals open provides so much business for restaurants and bars in the city. As a city we desperately need it to happen.”