Adapt or die: Restaurant sector’s stark choice


AUSTRALIA'S dining industry is facing obliteration, with more than 250,000 job losses and tens of thousands of venues predicted to close due to the effects of coronavirus.

Following the Australian Government's decision to close all restaurants, bars and cafes from midday yesterday - only allowing them to offer takeaway or home delivery - industry experts say the hospitality scene will never be the same again.

Restaurant and Catering Australia chief executive Wes Lambert said the situation became "scarier and scarier the more you think about it".

"It's impossible to speculate (how many job losses there will be)," Mr Lambert said of the workforce of about 450,000 nationally.

However, he recognised most venues would - if they hadn't already - be letting go of all their casual staff, which represented 61 per cent (or 275,000) of those employees.

"We won't now how many (job losses) until we see how businesses adapt during this stage one (closure policy)."

Mr Lambert said it was also hard to predict how many businesses would collapse as a result of COVID-19 closures, but said significant numbers were already shutting their doors - particularly large venues where it was simply unfeasible to operate as a takeaway-only operation.


Hellenika’s Simon Gloftis in more optimistic times
Hellenika’s Simon Gloftis in more optimistic times



Two such venues to shut their doors this week are former Queensland Restaurant of the Year Hellenika at The Calile, and its sister venue SK Steak and Oyster - both in Brisbane's Fortitude Valley.

Owner Simon Gloftis had been offering takeaway service at both venues after restrictions were put into place limiting the number of guests at indoor venues.

However, after the Government announcement on Sunday night that all restaurants, cafes and bars were to shut down, he decided to close both restaurants completely for the indefinite future.

"I just want to make sure I'm in the best position to reopen, whether that's three, six or nine months," he said.

"I want to just clear the decks, close the doors and when we reopen, we reopen powerful, fresh and clean and welcome people with open arms and bring back the smiles."

The devastating decision to close meant letting go of 220 staff across both venues, but Mr Gloftis said it would ensure he would be able to come out the other side of the pandemic stronger.

However he predicted other venues wouldn't be so lucky, estimating that up to 70 per cent could close their doors permanently.

"I know how small the margins are, the cash flow, people have hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt," he said.

"Some of our favourite restaurants will be no longer."



John Gambaro has joined the takeaway revolution. Picture: Peter Wallis
John Gambaro has joined the takeaway revolution. Picture: Peter Wallis





For those choosing to stay open, however, it has become a time for innovation and adaptation.

Brisbane's iconic Gambaro Seafood Restaurant has created Gambaro's 2 Go - a click and collect home deliver service offering a wide range of Gambaro's restaurant dishes as takeaway options.

"I said to the chefs, 'Let's make sure the portion size is large, I want people to sing through their food,' " co-owner John Gambaro said.

"Whatever bit of comfort that we can offer that can give people the feeling that they're out, is going to help."

Mr Gambaro said the main objectives were to keep as many staff employed as possible while ensuring the safety and happiness of customers.

"All our staff will be temperature checked, regularly (and) if you want to come in and pick up, we'll practise social distancing," he said.

The service will accommodate for family meals, kids' meals and dietary requirements, such as gluten-free and vegan meals - with orders dropped directly into car boots for pick-ups.

Brisbane City fine diner Alchemy has also chosen to innovate during these uncertain times, launching "Alchemy To You", a gourmet grocery service providing protein, fruit, veg and dry goods from local suppliers, which usually only serve the city's best restaurants.

They are also offering restaurant-quality takeaway meals, such as marinated beef cheeks with mash, and jumbo quail with Asian salad, while Alchemy's pastry chef has been baking bread for the packs.

"I went to the supermarket and couldn't believe the lack of produce on the shelves," co-owner Angelica Jolly said.

"So I said to (husband) Brad, let's provide groceries."

"If this can help the suppliers and I can bring on staff to pack, then the customer wins, suppliers win and so will our staff.

"The key to this scenario is that we all have to keep the businesses moving or everyone loses."


Angelica Jolly and husband Brad at Alchemy restaurant with fresh produce. Picture: Mark Cranitch.
Angelica Jolly and husband Brad at Alchemy restaurant with fresh produce. Picture: Mark Cranitch.




After opening at the end of last year to packed crowds, Brisbane's BrewDog brewery has also been hammered by the coronavirus crisis, estimating they had lost 70 per cent of their revenue overnight when the limitation on diner numbers came in, and since Sunday's announcement they had lost 90 per cent of revenue.

They were forced to let go of 40 staff, but are today opening a new drive-through service, where customers can pick up cans of beer (with about 20 styles to choose from) with a pizza, burger or wings.

"Our view is we'd like to keep as many people in jobs as long as possible," said BrewDog's head of Australian operations Calvin McDonald.

The brewery will also start selling packs of Australian-brewed beer into bottle shops to try to create another income stream, and offering takeaway on delivery platforms UberEats and Deliveroo.

City Winery in Fortitude Valley has been receiving an average of an online order ever 30 minutes for their wine delivery service, owner Adam Penberthy said, and will be doing up to 10 pop-up bars across Brisbane in the next few weeks to help keep staff employed.

While both BrewDog and City Winery can offer alcohol delivery as they have a retail licence, MR Lambert said the group was lobbying the Queensland Government to allow restaurants to also sell alcohol with food deliveries.

"This will be the difference for survival for some businesses," he said, with the alcohol costs providing an essential extra revenue stream.










Originally published as Adapt or die: Restaurant sector's stark choice

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