Expect things to be a bit different next time you go to eat at your favourite restaurant.
Audrey Bourget

28 May 2020 - 12:23 PM  UPDATED 28 May 2020 - 12:25 PM

It's been a challenging few months for hospitality in Australia, with venues having to quickly adapt to new rules, shut their doors, turn to takeaway or completely change what they do (and sometimes, all of these at once).

With restaurants allowed to reopen across the country, new guidelines mean that eating out won't be like it used to. But it can still be fun, and, more than ever, you can help ensure that your local stays kicking.

Getting used to new ways 

In Sydney, restaurants can currently host a maximum of 10 customers. From 1 June, it will be 50, but with physical distancing rules, a small venue like Korean restaurant Sáng by Mabasa can't welcome much more than seven customers at a time.

But Kenny Yong Soo Son, who co-runs the joint, says, "Even with a maximum of 10 people, we needed to open up in order to survive."

The restaurant has temporarily ditched the à la carte menu, and now offers two set menus. Diners get to eat some of the restaurant's best dishes along with new ones that didn't find a place on the original menu.

"Overall, the comments over the weekend were very positive. People were commenting about how intimate it felt," says Son.

Sáng by Mabasa is currently not asking for credit-card details when customers book, but you'll have to get used to a lot more restaurants doing so, and charging you a fee if you don't show up.

Korea’s lesser-known snacks are the stars at this Sydney restaurant
Sáng by Mabasa is making a solid case for Korean snacking beyond fried chicken.

In the next suburb, Lankan Filling Station has just reopened its doors with a set menu.

Chef-owner O Tama Carey says, "Some people got a bit cranky about giving their credit card details, but most people were fine with it. It's not an unreasonable ask. There are all those other things for which you'd buy a ticket and if you didn't turn up, it's your fault, not our fault."

Her customers tend to order early, so she has missed the feeling of a dining room buzzing until late. "Hopefully, that will change and people come out later again, we really miss the vibrancy of Sydney," she says.

In Melbourne, restaurants will be allowed to welcome 20 guests from 1 June, and 50 from 22 June, if the total number of people does not exceed one person per four square metres.

At Daughter in Law, you'll still be able to order à la carte, but there will be a minimum spend required per guest.

Owner Jessi Singh says, "We want our customers to know that we're opening with such big restrictions. We're not making money, we're just trying to break even."

How to support restaurants

As soon as it was possible, keen Australians booked out their favourite restaurants. But in Sydney, there have already been plenty of no-shows.

If you make a booking, you must take it seriously. Arrive and leave on time, as the staff will need time to sanitise the space. Wash your hands and respect physical distancing, for your own and the staff's safety. Obviously, don't make a booking if you feel sick.

"Overall, the comments over the weekend were very positive. People were commenting about how intimate it felt." 

"We've been there for your birthdays, your celebrations, your weddings; now is the time to support the hospitality industry and support small businesses," says Singh.

"The next couple of years will be very hard, but I'm not in this business for the money. This is my life, always has been. I'm ready for the challenge."

If you're not comfortable dining in just yet, plenty of restaurants are still doing takeaway. When possible, order directly from them rather than a third-party service.

Melbourne's Ima Project Cafe would eventually like to go back to dining-in only, especially to minimise waste. But until they can do so safely in their small space, they will keep doing takeaway.

Co-owner Asako Miura says, "We're grateful that by keeping our doors open, we get to speak to all these lovely customers. It's such a tough time, but customers are so nice."

The Australian-Japanese cafe is also planning to keep selling their pickles, furikake and nori paste. "We had always wanted to do that before the pandemic. In a way, it pushed us to do it," says Miura.


A small step in the right direction

Despite being worried about the future, chefs and restaurant owners are hopeful.

Son says, "We were very worried to see if people would ring up at all to book, but the response has been crazy. People really want to come back out and eat, they've missed hospitality.

"It's a small step, but it's nice to have people back in. A big part of hospitality is the people, so without the human interaction it's a bit empty."

Morgan McGlone of Belle's Hot Chicken believes we can get through this if we all do our part.

"I think that we are very lucky. For the most part, Australians took this seriously and you can see that in the numbers. COVID-19 will probably be around for a long while, so we have to go back to some kind of normalcy," McGlone says.

"Unfortunately, there will be some casualties. But I feel that if everyone takes personal responsibilities of their own health, hygiene and distancing, I'm very hopeful we'll be able to live in a normal way again. I believe Australia will come out for the better after this."

Miura says, "It's crazy times, but it makes you want to fight harder."

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