NSW pubs and clubs have been given a last-minute lifeline and will be allowed to open attached restaurants for up to 10 sit-down customers at a time from Friday.
Heeding pleas from pubs and clubs, the government backflip puts them in line with cafes and restaurants under new relaxed restrictions from tomorrow.
The decision followed a day of high-level government meetings, including conversations between Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant.
And it came after Ms Berejiklian had earlier said: “At this stage it’s just cafes and restaurants … however, we are looking at opportunities where there are those venues within a pub situation or a club situation where it’s sit-down only.”
On Wednesday night, the government confirmed restaurants in pubs and clubs would be able to open, after questions from The Daily Telegraph about the inconsistent rules.
Only 10 customers will be allowed at the one time and social distancing requirements must be adhered to. Bars and poker machines are still closed.
The reprieve will bring some relief for pub operators who have been losing, on average, more than $35,000 per month amid the coronavirus shutdown.
It also puts an end to days of uncertainty for clubs, which originally thought they would be allowed to open for 10 sit-down customers at a time — before being told on Tuesday they would need to stay shut.
Clubs in NSW have had an 87 per cent fall in monthly revenue since the shutdown, with a cumulative $212 million monthly net loss.
“This is an important first step,” Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said.
Ahead of the government’s decision on Wednesday night, the Australian Hotels Association had questioned why pubs had to remain shut, while restaurants and cafes could start allowing diners through the door.
“Why is it that 10 people can eat in a cafe whereas across the road they can’t sit down for a meal in a 500-capacity venue?” AHA NSW liquor and policing director John Green said.
The peak body was particularly concerned about pubs in the state’s regions. “They’re the heart of the community,” Mr Green said. “They have been with their community through fires, floods, drought, and coronavirus. They’re the community hub, that’s where people go for a meal.”
Later welcoming the move to allow pub and club dining to reopen, Mr Green said: “This is a common sense decision — a step forward for pubs especially in regional areas.
“We are one of the most heavily regulated industries in the country with large venues and the capacity to socially distance. We have put the health of patrons and staff first since this pandemic started and will continue to do so.”
Deputy Premier John Barilaro said reopening restaurants in pubs would be a boost for regional communities.
“It’s been a tough few months but we are starting to see some wins, first on the health front and now in getting the economy back, and this is welcome news for many regional towns,” he said.
The Star’s Sokyo is set to be the first high-end restaurant to open its door, welcoming guests from 12.01am Friday for a special VIP event.
“The industry has been decimated over the past couple of months and the pain will remain for some time to come,” CEO Matt Bekier said.
“Opening Sokyo with a maximum of 10 guests is not a revenue-making decision. It’s a decision based on giving our customers the dining experiences they’ve been waiting so patiently to enjoy again.”
The Coogee Wine Room, which operates under a restaurant licence, is another preparing to open.
“It crashed our website yesterday when we opened reservations,” venue manager Brooke Adey said on Wednesday.
“The weekend was fully booked within a couple of hours … We certainly aren’t expecting to make a lot of money during this process. But for us, it was a matter of building and maintaining the relationships with the guests that we’ve already got.”
The Glenmore Hotel in The Rocks will not be opening until it is commercially viable. W. Short Hospitality Group operations manager Jennifer Russell said it would not be sustainable to open for just 10 people at a time.
Prior to lockdown, the historic pub would have “hundreds of people through the door”, Ms Russell said.
Colleen Finn and Scarlett Arthur are among Glenmore staff relying on the JobKeeper payment amid the shutdown.
Ms Finn has worked at the Glenmore since she moved to Australia 5½ ago.
“I’m excited for it to open up because it’s an important spot for me,” she said. “We can’t wait to welcome customers through the door.”
Mr Perrottet said: “We realise the smaller venues will be the ones who gain most, but we are working hard to ensure we open in a safe manner and get the economy back up and firing.”
Prior to lockdown, 75,000 people were employed by pubs across the state, according to AHA NSW figures — more than 70,000 have been stood down or terminated.
Australian Hotels Association NSW director of liquor and policing John Green said the decision was common sense, and a step forward for pubs, particuarly in regional areas.
“We are one of the most heavily regulated industries in the country – with large venues and the capacity to socially distance.
“We have put health of patrons and staff first since this pandemic started and will continue to do so.”
Freedom is looming for NSW residents, with major restrictions on daily lives to be wound back from Friday as the government looks for ways to boost jobs and ease lockdown rules even further.
But the restriction rewrite is not without confusion: some of the new rules appear contradictory, including an edict banning more than five people visiting another household, but allowing a family of 10 to welcome five visitors.
From Friday, NSW residents can again look forward to outdoor gatherings, larger home visits, and eating in at cafes and restaurants.
People will be allowed to leave the house for recreation, not just exercise, for the first time since tough lockdown measures were put in place. Outdoor gatherings will be capped at 10 people, with outdoor gyms and play equipment open again.
Households will be allowed to welcome up to five visitors, no matter how many people usually reside in the home. That means large families can still welcome five visitors, leading to more than 10 people gathered under the one roof. In another apparent contradiction, regional holidays are still banned but there is no restriction on how far someone can travel to visit friends or family.
The government is encouraging more economic activity, with cafes and restaurants able to seat up to 10 patrons at any one time, provided there is only one person per 4sqm.
The Corner House is one venue finding creative ways to make the new restrictions work. The Bondi eatery has encouraged groups of 10 to book out the whole venue for $1000 each, which includes a $1000 bar tab, unlimited pizzas, and cheese boards.
“I thought to myself that it would be so much fun to have the whole bar to yourself and a few friends, like that dream of being locked in a toy store and having it all to yourself before security realise you’re in there,” owner Ben Siderowitz said.
He said at first he felt “amused and confused” by the restriction changes.
“As the owner of a venue that can fit over 150 people at one time, hearing the number 10 was a bit of a shock to the system,” he said.
“Once that initial reaction wore off I got my thinking hat on and said to myself ‘10 people is better than nothing, how can we maximise our return off these 10 people while staying true to our brand?’.”
Other restaurateurs were less optimistic about the new rules. My Kitchen Rules judge and Banksia Hotel owner Colin Fassnidge won’t begin to consider reopening the doors until at least 20 people are allowed in.
“It will work for the local cafe or sushi joint but do you want to sit in a restaurant with only 10 people?” he asked. “What the government did with stimulus was good, as much as I hate to say the government did something right. I’m 100 per cent behind what they have to do, but it just doesn’t help us.”
Ms Berejiklian said it was a tough time for businesses: “I understand for a number of businesses that will be viable, but for many others it won’t.”