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Mike Rodrigues (left) at the Time Out Bar Awards in December 2019
Photograph: Anna KuceraMike Rodrigues (left) at the Time Out Bar Awards in December 2019

Time Out Australia's managing director: Why I do what I do

Written by Mike Rodrigues
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Among the hardship the world is enduring currently, silver linings are there to be found  for me that came last week in the form of having to explain to my six-year-old what I do for a crust. Having spent 12 years leading our team at Time Out in their work in inspiring people to go out and explore their cities, this used to be a simple answer: "I help people go out and have fun."

And during Sydney's lockout years, I was able to explain to her that draconian law stopped people from being able to do that. I launched the Night Time Industries Association, which I now chair, to do something about it and to help revitalise Sydney's nightlife. The NTIA and the Independent Bars Association were instrumental in convincing Sydney to repeal its lockout laws, and like many in the sector, I thought we'd overcome the worst obstacles.

But Covid-19 is something else. It sits directly in opposition to what Time Out was founded to do. As a byproduct, it makes answering a six-year-old's questions more challenging than I would like. Particularly when she found me working on launching this petition featuring two hairy men.

"What are you doing, Daddy?"

How could I explain my new job? How could I summarise the importance of cultural innovation to the lifeblood of our cities? How could I detail that a life without inspiration, a life without discovery, was a lesser life?

For once I didn't stumble. I just said: "They are my friends. And friends need to look after each other."

Earlier that evening I had sat with Jake Smyth and Kenny Graham, two of the country's most influential hospitality leaders, to do a podcast. They had just finished letting go of 85 per cent of the Mary's Group workforce, with the remaining staff taking a pay reduction. As Kenny would later say, it's been a tsunami, and the independent hospitality scene was standing on the beach. 

No one's arguing with physical distancing. But how do we minimise the direct human impact? For the up to 900,000 hospitality workers in the country irrespective of visa or employment status (full-time, part-time or casual); the many self-employed business owners; and the businesses themselves who have borne the brunt of physical distancing – we lose them now, we may lose them forever.

So that's why, back on Wednesday, March 18, I set up a campaign called "Keep Our Venues Alive" to draw attention to the plight of the hospitality sector specifically and call on government to come to its aid with immediate financial assistance. Less than two weeks later and as part of the ongoing work of the NTIA, of which Time Out remains a proud member, Keep Our Venues Alive has a volunteer workforce featuring a number of industry legends all over the country and even a couple in Singapore (thank you, thank you, thank you); near 15,000 people on our petition; hundreds of companies and individuals completing our research exercise; alignment with the premium spirits houses via industry body Spirit & Cocktails Australia and the Australian Distillers Association; and a growing list of media partners.

But more important than all that is the government announcement that came yesterday, specifically identifying the hospitality sector as one that was directly affected by the new laws. The "job keeper" payment is a wage subsidy that will be extended to employers who keep on their employees, amounting to $1,500 per employee per fortnight. The details are being hammered out, but in essence it should cover a number of affected employees dating back to March 1. For me, I hope it goes some way towards helping my friends. Jake, Kenny, their teams and the wonderful people all around the country that have made my last 12 years running Time Out such a rich experience.

Brand people are calling what we're doing right now a "pivot to Time In". I suppose that's right. But I don't think we ever thought about it this way, per se. It was more about preserving the idea of going out, even if you were at home. A virtual city, if you like. One where physical distance might be imposed but that should not result in social distance. And a core part of Time Out's socialising pedigree is dependent on the hospitality and cultural events that make our cities tick.

So while our bodies might be In, our hearts, our thoughts, our beliefs and our actions are well and truly Out. We hope to be able to return to our normal life of un-physically distanced adventure soon.

Meanwhile we will bring the city to your living room. And by actively campaigning alongside so many industry participants through keepourvenuesalive.com (the wage subsidy is an important step, but there is more to do), the NTIA and other initiatives will ensure our cities are ready to welcome back our full selves when the time is right.

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