Australia’s hospitality industry is now in an unprecedented time of need. As the world rapidly comes to terms with the COVID-19 pandemic, venues are being forced to cut costs, lay off staff and even shut their doors. For now, this appears to be temporary – and hopefully it will be – but the circumstances are changing so rapidly that the future is largely uncertain, and potentially very bleak.
This country’s bars, pubs, cafés and restaurants all operate on razor-thin margins as it is, but after enduring the lockout laws and a summer marred by the bushfires, the places where we love to get watered and fed in Sydney now find themselves in a more vulnerable position than ever. And the threat of a pandemic means that some might not ever bounce back.
In times like these, it’s important to remember that these are cornerstones of civil society: places where we celebrate milestones, fall in love, and discover new flavours and ideas, and with which we forge long-lasting relationships and return to time and time again because they makes us feel better than anywhere else in the world can – even if it’s just for a quick beer at the end of a long day.
They are community hubs, places that people spend lifetimes and livelihoods working towards creating and investing in, often at the expense of what many consider to be a normal social life. They're places where people cultivate unparalleled skill sets, build confidence and develop strong senses of self-worth. They’re home to hard workers of all shapes and sizes – young apprentices, sommeliers, cleaners, glassies, executive chefs, baristas, bartenders, dishwashers, security guards and so, so many more – many of whom spend more time in venue than they do in their own homes. But unlike so many of us, they simply cannot work from home.
Physical distancing and bans on indoor gatherings both put the very core of the hospitality industry directly in the firing line. And the latest crowd restrictions, mandating four square metres per person in an enclosed space, means that many venues will not be able to keep operating. Some of our city’s largest hospitality groups have already laid off a significant percentage of their staff – so you can only imagine what has and will continue to become of small, independent operators. If Dublin’s unemployment figures are anything to go by, 85 per cent of people without jobs in a lockdown will be from the hospitality sector.
Simple gestures like purchasing a voucher or placing an order from your favourite venues are easy ways to make an immediate impact, but no number of takeaway meals or pre-batched cocktails will be long-term solutions. Political action is not just necessary – for many, it is the only option.
On Tuesday, March 17, the New Zealand government announced a $12.1 billion package representing 4per cent of the country’s GDP, $5.1 billion of which accounts for wage subsidies for affected businesses, with part-time and full-time workers receiving up to $585 per week. Today, the Victorian government is announcing a $1.7 billion support package that, among other measures, promises to exempt payroll tax for small businesses, defer land tax, waive liquor license fees and offer transitional employment. We need to act fast in order to raise awareness here in Sydney if we want to protect the hospitality sector from collapse and see similar action on local, state and national levels.
You can start this very minute by signing the Night Time Industries Association’s (NTIA) petition as part of its ‘Keep Our Venues Alive’ initiative, demanding action from the Federal Government. If you’re a venue owner, staff member or supplier, this is the time to get loud and share how your venue has been impacted, so that accurate figures can be reported and lead to a rapid response. Take the time to email your local member, state representative or federal MP and urge them to take action.
The bottom line is that your support is more vital than ever right now. This comes down to looking out for people – 600,000 people, in 45,000 businesses across the country, that contribute $26 billion to our economy – who spend their working lives looking out for us.
Stay healthy, stay safe, and stay positive.
Acting Food and Drink Editor, Time Out Sydney