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What’s behind the lights?

That’s freedom! Changing the way we dine

11 Nov 2020

That’s freedom! Changing the way we dine Image

By Jack Hayes

Southbankers will be looking forward to a summer of alfresco dining as part of the City of Melbourne’s plan to wake the area from a COVID-19 slumber.

It is hoped transforming the footpaths and car parking spaces of Southbank’s boulevards, promenades and streets to outdoor dining will be a relief to so many hospitality businesses.

The announcement has come as welcome news to many of our riverside favourites which have already begun transforming the promenade into a vibrant dining precinct to activate the area like never before.

It has seen neighbouring hospitality businesses such as Pure South Dining, P.J. O’Brien’s, Waterfront, and Bear Brass apply together to find a combined outdoor dining solution works along the busy promenade.

Phillip Kennedy from Pure South Dining said he loved the camaraderie of businesses along the river. Although outdoor dining is no quick fix to months of costs and closures, it has been encouraging to see the transformation.

“I don’t know whether it looks like Naples, Paris or London, but to be on the river with the seats and plane trees is just amazing,” Mr Kennedy said. “We were all surprised by how fantastic it looks and will be lobbying that outdoor dining in that area remains forever.”

“We’ve set it up for 70 guests, and it fits nicely. There is enough space for everyone to feel safe and close enough to still make it a part of a Pure South Dining experience.”

“We’ve got plans in the works to set up a dining area and bar outside the Esso building. We’re hopeful the City of Melbourne can come to the party with it. If we can get it off the ground, that will save our summer and go a long way to restoring hope in the future.”

According to Mr Kennedy, with the addition of outdoor dining, Pure South is currently running at 50 per cent capacity; a figure that will need to increase by almost 40 per cent to return his long-time business to pre-COVID levels.

With an opening of international borders to both travellers and workers, Mr Kennedy said will come a massive wave of relief in an industry whose backbone relies on the efforts of foreign workers.

“That buzz and hum of Melbourne restaurant food culture holds itself largely by the hands of foreign workers in our kitchens, cafes and bars. Sadly, I feel Melbourne’s hospitality won’t return to itself until we see them return,” Mr Kennedy said.

“While everyone, including myself, loves dining alfresco, it can be incredibly unreliable given the nature of the outdoors and won’t see us close to our 300-seat capacity unless we get permission to expand.”

More than $1m in funding – to be shared by 130 successful recipients - has been confirmed to support outdoor dining and COVID-safe reopening as part of the council and Victorian Government’s Melbourne City Recovery Fund. The remaining grants of up to $10,000 will be confirmed in the coming weeks.

As of November 9, venues can cater for 40 guests inside subject to a density limit of one person per four sqm, and 70 outside, subject to a density limit of one person per two sqm. Those numbers will increase as of November 23, with the same density requirements applied allowing for 100 patrons inside and 200 outside.

Another Southbank stalwart making the most of the fresh air is Left Bank’s Eddie Muto.

Mr Muto admits there have been several limitations and considerations while readying his venue for outdoor dining, but it has been wonderful to see the response from locals so far.

“Our landlords Mirvac have been brilliant in getting us ready for this [outdoor dining]. They’ve supplied our furniture and fencing which has allowed us to get things going so quickly, but that will only be temporary,” Mr Muto said.

By November 19, we will have a new structure ready on the lawn of the Promenade.”

Mr Muto has been a mainstay throughout lockdown, transforming his bustling restaurant and bar into a pop-up “Mercato”, much to the delight of locals.

“We loved the market, and had a great response from locals, which was great to see during lockdown,” he said.

“But to give us enough time to get ready for diners, we have had to stop. It’s just too hard to switch from market to restaurant and cocktail bar within a couple of hours.”

“With our new summer menu in full swing and new outdoor dining structure on the way, we are incredibly excited for the season ahead.”

Further down the river, the sentiment is much the same.

South Wharf Restaurants’ Sam Shaw, who overseas venues including Bang Pop, Meat Market and Common Man has a new lease on life following the ease of restrictions on hospitality venues and the introduction of alfresco dining.

“It feels amazing. I did 90 hours of work last week, and it feels like I did nothing. We are running on pure adrenalin at the moment,” Mr Shaw said.

With spirits high and a look towards the future something to anticipate, venues in Southbank all hold a similar sentiment to Pure South’s Phillip Kennedy.

“We want to do outdoor dining so well that the City of Melbourne, the Victorian Government and general public think, ‘that was brilliant, let’s do it again next year’. That’s my goal,” he said •

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