Wide support for outdoor dining

By Rhonda Dredge

Now is the time for cafes, pubs and restaurants in the CBD to dream large and put forward plans for extending service outdoors to laneways and pavements.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp announced last month that $100 million would be available to re-open the central city (details on page 9).

She invited businesses to apply for a grant to become more COVID-safe and expand their outdoor areas.

“It’s not our intention to add to the red tape,” Cr Capp said in a press conference outside Town Hall on September 14. 

Each application will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, with outdoor table service to begin in October and some form of indoor by the end of November.

Phillip Hockenberger, manager of the Hofbrauhaus which has a 35-metre frontage to Market Lane, is pushing for the lane to be closed to traffic, preferably in time for Octoberfest.

“We’re definitely going to apply for Hofbrauhaus in Market Lane,” he said. “It could be a beautiful dining area. Octoberfest. It’s a big deal for us. It’s part of our culture and tradition.”

He said that the outside dining culture in Bavaria was big. “Beer gardens were invented in Germany. We always wanted an outside area but it was never possible.”

The 52-year-old restaurant has been trading at 15 per cent of its normal turnover since the city was locked down. 

Although the restaurant has been doing home deliveries from its Docklands premises, it has been difficult to capture the jovial atmosphere of the beer barn from a distance.

“With the catering instructions for Bavaria at Home we’ve worked them in a funny way with beer and humour,” Phillip said. 

Some $30 million of the funds from both the council and the state government will go towards helping businesses move into outdoor dining, including making improvements to streets and public places.

A further $40 million will go into welcoming back workers and $30 million into organising entertainment such as concerts in the open.

Details of how this will be done will be released slowly but some commentators have been skeptical about the road map for the future.

The Lord Mayor acknowledged that the feedback from pubs, cafés and restaurants was that outdoor dining did not suit everyone.

“We have a 10-point plan for hospitality businesses to open up safely inside. We’ll be presenting it to the government.”

But Phillip Hockenberger foresees a great future for outdoor dining in Melbourne. “Europe has had pedestrian-only areas for 100 years. There isn’t any real outdoor dining here apart from small laneways,” he said. 

He said that Market Lane was not too narrow so customers could keep their social distance. 

The lockdown has shown that Melbourne’s café establishment is resilient. Many have continued serving through small windows on the street and provided takeaway for the first time in their history.

This could be the next big development. “We need to become the ‘City of Yes’,” the Lord Mayor said. “This is the toughest environment in the city businesses have experienced.” •

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