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Outdoor dining returns to Southbank

06 Oct 2020

Outdoor dining returns to Southbank Image

By David Schout

Southbank Promenade and Riverside Quay will feature as two of Melbourne’s key outdoor dining precincts under a council plan to bring visitors back into the city.

After months of takeaway-only trade as a result of coronavirus restrictions, struggling local cafes and restaurants will soon be able to host diners at the popular public spaces.

The City of Melbourne has assigned both areas to host “pop-up cafes and restaurants”, where businesses without existing outdoor areas can operate.

Of the 2390 cafes and restaurants within the municipality, only 800 venues have outdoor dining spaces.

Businesses with existing outdoor permits will be allowed and encouraged to expand their operations.

“For those that have outdoor spaces, if their neighbouring shop allows them they can expand either side,” the council’s CEO Justin Hanney said last month.

“They can go onto the car parking bays out on the street; the green car parking bay.”

The council, along with the state government, have committed to supplying relevant COVID-safe protection such as bollards, planter boxes and safety barriers to assist with the initiative.

Southbank Promenade and Riverside Quay are two of 16 locations across the City of Melbourne where outdoor dining will be allowed.

Nearby, locals will also be able to dine al fresco at Batman Park along the north bank of the Yarra River, and Yarra’s Edge in Docklands.

Modelled on New York’s “Open Restaurants” initiative, the plan the outdoor dining plan is a way to work around strict indoor dining health rules. 

Mr Hanney said the council anticipated the move would be more than just a stop-gap.

“We expect outdoor dining to be so popular with patrons this summer that it will become a permanent feature of our city for generations to come. We encourage business owners to keep coming forward with ideas because we want to see our cafes, restaurants and retail stores thriving again. We will endeavour to do everything we possibly can to assist our businesses to reopen and begin trading once restrictions lift,” Mr Hanney said.

At the time of publishing, outdoor dining was tentatively expected to return on October 19 under an easing of state government restrictions, although this date was largely dependent on metropolitan Melbourne’s COVID-19 caseload.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp urged the state government to consider bringing this date forward if case numbers continued to fall.

In detailing council’s support, Mr Hanney said they hoped to make outdoor dining an experience people would return to.

“It’s important that the outdoor dining spaces are high quality and are inviting. To achieve this, we will support businesses to install bollards, planters and barriers. Businesses will be responsible for furniture such as chairs and tables and fast grants are available to assist cash-strapped tradersm,” he said.

In September, Premier Daniel Andrews urged local governments to avoid “bureaucratic delays” getting outdoor dining off the ground, and it appeared the City of Melbourne had heeded the call.

The council also announced that applications for grants of up to $10,000 were open to assist with post-lockdown operations.

This included not only cafes and restaurants for the move to outdoor dining, but small and medium-sized businesses in any industry to assist with COVID-safe equipment and infrastructure, staff training and other marketing or promotional needs.

The grants are part of the $100 million Melbourne City Recovery Fund, a joint program between the council and government announced in September •

Minister for Industry Support and Recovery Martin Pakula said the fund was vital for the state’s economic centre.

“This support is a vital part of our recovery plan for Melbourne and Victoria,” he said.

“Cash to back business initiatives and a can-do attitude from the council will help to bring people back into the heart of the city.”

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