Traders relieved after council waives outdoor dining fees

Brendan Rees

Southbank hospitality traders are breathing a sigh of relief after the City of Melbourne waived outdoor dining fees for another seven months as the city recovers from the pandemic.

Permit fees for outdoor dining and busking have been frozen since the extended outdoor dining program began in October 2020 and were due to be reinstated on April 1.

But at council’s March 29 meeting, councillors endorsed an extension of the program until October 31 after city activation portfolio lead Cr Roshena Campbell led a motion saying, “Many businesses are still struggling as we move into the winter months” and it wasn’t “the right time to impose that fee burden on them.”

“They’re concerned about ongoing consumer confidence and early this year 74 per cent of them told us they were struggling to survive.”

For Ollie Gould, the executive chef at Southbank restaurant Asado, the news of the program extension was warmly welcomed as the “continued support is going to get us through whatever issues may still be to come.”

“Restaurants are certainly seeing a lot of increased pricing through supply chains and import taxes and rate charges so anything to help us through is going to save a lot of people again,” he said.

“We put a platform outside with eight tables which has been really beneficial. It’s been able to increase our capacity to the benefit of revenue.”

“There’s certainly been local support and I think we’ve been lucky that it hasn’t been too wet over the last few months and there’s lots of attractions at Southbank to bring people back.”

But he added, “One would hope getting to October there will be another extension because another six months of warm weather of outside dining is a big boost for the hospitality economy in general.”

Nick Edgar, owner of Espresso Bar, said his dining fees were normally about $10,000 a year “so the fact they are waiving it is amazing.”

“It’s so helpful at the moment,” he said after having recently expanded his outdoor space with the help of a council small business reactivation grant.

However, while he said business had been “busier than we’ve ever been”, his café’s “biggest challenge” was filling a staff shortage.

“We were borderline on almost having to go to takeaway a few times. I’ve had people move overseas, and I’ve had people move interstate,” but added, “Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take busy any day of the week.”

“The city has come back to life; we’ve just got to deal with the hangover and slowly but surely survive in a better environment with staff.”

Ashwyn Prabakaran, who runs 8 Miles Café, said the fee waiver was “more than welcomed” as his business began to bounce back to pre-COVID levels after falling to 90 per cent during lockdowns.

However, he said while he appreciated having outdoor dining, his space was a little restricted and hoped the council would “come up with a plan that would be a win-win situation for all businesses instead of imposing the same rules all over the place”.

“A bit more space would be the best thing so we can put more people outside,” he said.

Cr Campbell said the council was “all too aware about how hard hit our traders have been through this pandemic” and “the ability to trade outdoors has been critical.”

 

Not only has it been a safer environment for many of them to trade in, it’s allowed them to trade through restrictions, including density limits, and help them – many of whom had suffered severe impacts to their cash flows over the past two years.

 

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the outdoor dining program had delivered an additional 18,000 restaurant seats across 1500 businesses while creating 100 new jobs.  

“We want to entice more people to our city and help traders serve as many customers as possible, and outdoor dining is one way we can do that.” 

Yarra River Business Association executive officer Tim Bracher said any assistance that would keep “business people’s” heads above water was always welcomed,” but added the waiver would “not be a ‘make or break’ action, especially as the weather cools and we move back to indoor dining.” •

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