When the Victorian government announced its plan to cautiously reopen the state’s restaurants and cafés on June 1, it came with a catch. There will have to be a serious set of rules in place in order for hospitality venues to be safe for both patrons and staff to operate.
The government has now released the Hospitality Industry Guidelines – a 30-page document that aims to give guidance to hospo businesses about how they can reopen safely.
The document is dense – there’s no doubt about it. So here’s a quick breakdown to shed some light on what dining will look like in Melbourne from here on out.
When will restaurants, pubs, cafés and bars reopen?
From June 1, restaurants and cafés can resume dine-in service with up to 20 patrons per enclosed space. The venue must offer table service to serve food (so you can’t sit at a bar and eat there). As well as standalone cafés and restaurants, bistros within pubs, bars, RSLs, hotels and fast food outlets, cafeterias and canteens can resume dine-in service. Public bars and gaming areas will remain closed.
What does "20 patrons per space" actually mean?
There can’t be more than 20 patrons in a single area. But it’s not a one-number-fits-all scenario. Patron numbers are determined by the size of the venue, and four square metres of space must be available for each patron (although people can sit together at tables, they won't be on four-square-metre islands). An 80-square-metre venue can cater for 20 people at a time, whereas a 40-square-metre venue can serve only ten at once. It's up to the venue to keep numbers in check and organise physically distanced queues outside where necessary.
What if there are multiple dining areas in a venue?
If a restaurant has multiple dining rooms (say, an upstairs and a downstairs, or separate rooms on one level) then 20 patrons can occupy each space, provided the space is big enough. Outdoor spaces and smoking areas are likely to be converted into dining areas so that venues can serve more people.
But it’s coming into winter? Won't it be cold outside?
Yeah. Suck it up and enjoy that parma – it will be worth it.
What hygiene practices will venues be enforcing?
Before reopening, venues will need to undertake deep cleaning of their premises. From then on, they’ll need to implement an “environmental cleaning schedule” to make sure that frequent cleaning and disinfection is happening on all high-touch surfaces and toilets. Venues will also be maximising ventilation where possible and providing physical barriers (maybe even sneeze guards) or floor markings to make sure people adhere to physical distancing. Hand sanitiser and hygiene stations should be available at entrances and throughout the venue, and the venue must reduce “touch points” where possible – so expect contactless payments, fewer condiments on tables and laminated menus, which can be cleaned between each use.
How many people can I have on my table?
The maximum booking size is six. You can book multiple tables, though the tables have to be spaced out so that everyone can stay 1.5 metres apart while seated.
Do we really need to sit 1.5 metres apart? What if we’re in the same family?
If you’re part of the same household and are sitting on the same table, you won’t need to sit 1.5 metres apart. According to the doc, “the 1.5-metre spacing requirement is between tables to maintain physical distancing between different groups of diners". But use common sense here – don’t be making out during dinner. No one should be doing that in a restaurant anyway.
Are kids included in the six-person booking?
Yes – children and infants are included. They are also included in the 20-person venue limit.
Are staff included in the density limit?
No. From June 1, the four-square-metre rule won’t apply to workers. Businesses will be able to roster on the number of staff “reasonably required” to operate.
Are shared plates allowed?
It’s been far too long since we heard “we do things a little differently here; everything is meant to be shared!”. The good news is shared food is allowed. The document says it’s fine to serve shared food within a group at the same table. But buffets, sadly, are out of the question.
Will there be a time limit on my booking?
This will depend on the venue. The document recommends venues make sure there is minimal overlap between different groups and suggests two-hour (or under) seatings where possible.
Are you allowed to rock up at a restaurant without a booking?
Indecisive diners won’t like this one. The document encourages venues to take online and phone bookings in order to limit the number of walk-in diners. So it’s likely if you arrive at a venue without a booking, the venue won’t have a spot for you. But this will definitely vary from venue to venue. In order to make it easier for everyone, make a booking in advance. And please, show up for your booking – people’s livelihoods depend on you rocking up, so don’t cancel and don't be late.
Will there be regular cutlery and glasses or do I have to struggle with a plastic fork and knife?
Venues can continue to use their own cutlery, crockery and beverage containers as long as appropriate cleaning and sanitation processes are in place.
Can I go to a venue for just a drink?
No. Currently, you can only be served alcohol if you get a meal as well. The food must also be a “genuine meal”, so not a bar snack, but it’s technically up to the venue itself to decide what this means as not all menus are the same. Essentially a "meal" would mean it has to be prepared – so a preprepared thing that comes out of a packet or jar, like chips or olives, won't be enough. The Department of Health says, “we ask Victorians to use their judgement and drink responsibly”.
Is BYO still allowed?
If the venue is licensed as a BYO venue, then yes, you can still BYO.
Can I bring my own reusable cup or takeaway container?
It’s up to the business, and keep in mind some venues would rather you don’t for hygiene reasons. There is a movement for cafés to start a new protocol for using reusable cups – read about it here.
Can I pay with cash?
As you may be aware, venues would much prefer you to use a card so there’s less contact between staff and patrons. However, this isn’t a “rule”, so it will depend on the venue. Expect some to not take cash.
Will a venue take my contact details?
Yes. Venues will be requesting the first name and contact phone number of each diner (not just the person who makes the booking). Venues will be keeping a secure record of these details, the date and time when you dined and where you sat. This information will be kept for 28 days for contact tracing purposes. Keep in mind that venues won’t be checking IDs to verify this information.
What if you or a venue gets caught doing the wrong thing?
Victoria police can issue on-the-spot fines of up to $1,652 for individuals and up to $9,913 for businesses if they don’t comply with emergency directions, public health risk power directions or a direction issued by the chief health officer. Larger fines (of up to $100,000 for businesses) might eventuate in the courts.
If you need further clarification on anything here, we urge you to read through the Hospitality Industry Guidelines document.