Regional hospitality venues had the green light to reopen with lockdown lifting on Friday but many remained shut as tough restrictions rendered some operations not viable.
The latest pandemic restrictions cap hospitality patrons to just 10 inside and 20 seated outside – a fraction of the capacity of many venues.
Owner of The Malmsbury, Anda Gazzard, said opening a large venue to just 10 people was not viable.
“It’s absolutely ludicrous. They are the toughest restrictions we’ve had this entire time – it’s some kind of magic trick we have to perform,” she said.
“Even if we had double sittings it just wouldn’t be viable. When people go out for a meal we don’t want to push them out the door, they want to be entertained and we want to entertain them. These restrictions go against the grain of what we’re all about.”
Ms Gazzard said people wanting to book tables had to be turned away and even they were baffled by the latest changes. She said The Malmsbury was fortunate to be able to continue its takeaway service.
A ‘kick in the guts’
Shadow Minister for Gaming and Liquor Regulation, Steph Ryan, said chopping and changing of restrictions was devastating to hospitality businesses that were already struggling to stay afloat.
“A 30-person capacity is a kick in the guts to venues that have been operating at a fraction of their capacity for 18 months now,” Ms Ryan said.
“Pubs and clubs have detailed COVID-safe plans and practices in place to keep patrons and staff safe.
“This is not a plan to reopen. It’s a cruel blow to regional hospitality businesses who hoped they would be seeing some light at the end of the tunnel.”
Trentham’s Cosmopolitan Hotel told customers via social media the limitations on hospitality were a “killer blow as they were looking forward to waiting on all locals and visitors”.
“It’s great that regional Victoria is opening up, however, due to the exceptionally tough restrictions, it is simply not viable for us to open for dine-in,” they said.
“Thank you to all that have called wanting to book. We miss your faces!”
Also joining the list of venues to stay shut to dine-in were Kyneton RSL, Mount Macedon Winery and Victoria Hotel in Woodend.
‘Another lockdown would devastate’
Business Kyneton president Kate Fairley said there were many hospitality venues that would be unable to open under the current restrictions but another lockdown would devastate small towns reliant on tourism.
“It’s so hard. For a business that has a full dinner service with a chef and staff to employ for just a small number of people, for example, it is easy to understand why it wouldn’t be viable,” she said.
“There are other venues like small cafés or those that have adapted to takeaway that will be able to operate.
“I think slow and steady is the right way even though it’s incredibly challenging.
“If we went into another lockdown, I think it would break a lot of people. It’s so important that we keep doing the right thing.”
Under the current restrictions, regional business operators that do open will need to continue ID checks, sign-ins, observe patron limits, distancing and face-mask rules, and encourage good hand hygiene.