Insights after Lockdown: Australia

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be speaking to industry friends from all over the world about what hospitality life looks like where they are – sharing insights and different approaches to our members for support and guidance. 

This week, Dimitri Rtshiladze, Owner and Venue Manager of Foxtrot Unicorn, and Murray Walsh, Venue Manager at Mechanics Institute, spoke to Brand Ambassador Brendan Grey, to give us an insight into how Australia, and specifically Western Australia, has been coping with lockdown.​

When COVID-19 began to spread in Australia, the country went into a nationwide shutdown, with curfews and border closures between the seven states and a financial relief system put in place for those who were suddenly out of work. Hospitality was hit particularly hard and venues across the country were left in a state of uncertainty as to when and if they would reopen. 

Quarantining and a screening system were set up and the results were prompt and largely positive at the beginning. The Northern Territory was the first to see bars reopen (albeit with strong restrictions in place) with South Australia, Tasmania, Australian Capital Territory and Western Australia, following close behind after around 10-12 weeks. The larger states of Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland were on track but have had second waves that are still causing curfews and full lockdown in some areas.​

 

Steps to re-opening

Now let’s focus on Western Australia, Brendan’s home state and current base, to provide some in-depth detail into what’s currently happening there.

As with many other countries, when Western Australia was given the opportunity to begin reopening, it came with a number of challenging restrictions. Venues could only open with restricted capacity, guests had to be seated and had to maintain a strict social distance of 1.5 meters from one another. A registry was set up at every venue requiring people to give their name and number so that they could be promptly contacted if someone tested positive. Face masks were either encouraged or mandatory and hand sanitizer was suddenly everywhere.

Venues took two main approaches that left them strongly positioned for re-opening - adaptability and a sense of community. For example, during lockdown, leading venues set up different projects in Western Australia to bring in revenue or take advantage of the time away from trade. Some venues set up take-away cocktail systems, bars were renovated, and new companies were launched. Most importantly, the industry came together to offer support systems with a strong mentality that they were going to get through it together.​

For Dimitri and Foxtrot Unicorn, the most important step he took during lockdown was trying to keep the staff connected, informed and regularly checking in on them. For Murray and the Mechanics Institute, they wanted to make sure that his team were aware of support available during lockdown, whether that be financial, psychological or educational. For Murray, having the majority of the team eager to work with him again when they re-opened was of utmost importance.

 

The future

Looking forward, it seems that the steps taken for Western Australia have so far worked. The state has recently moved into a full state re-opening – though borders still remain with other states – and the hospitality scene is on the way to getting some much-needed internal stability. In fact, one of the main issues currently facing larger venues is trying to find enough staff to keep up with business. There is however the risk of a second wave, with the Health Minister, Greg Hunt, noting it’s a matter of ‘not if, but when’ and the hospitality scene is bracing itself for that eventuality.

Looking at the “new normal” in the future, Murray and the team at Mechanics Institute think it will have a positive impact. He thinks more customers will become even more receptive to the craft behind hospitality. With the rise in homemade cocktails, there’s been a realization that a carefully crafted menu and atmosphere really is irreplaceable. He has already seen a huge shift in the attitudes of their customers, with a vast majority truly interested in what they’re drinking, spending more and taking bigger chances with the products they choose.

There’s always the question of would you do anything differently if you had to do it again. For Dimitri, he’d reconsider how they ran their cocktail delivery service and look at ways to make it more efficient. Personally (and like the rest of us), he’d cut down on the pizzas and do more exercise.

The next 12 months is one of uncertainty around the world, but for Brendan, if he was to offer any insight from the journey they have had in Western Australia it would be that adaptability and ingenuity are key in an ever changing landscape and that we're strongest working together as a community.