Parts of Australia are currently operating under different stages of COVID-19 restrictions, but one thing is common throughout; the lines of communication are shifting for staff and customers, with everyone having to adapt to COVID-safe rules.
Once the green light is given, there are all the usual to-dos: kitchen prep, cleaning, resetting the dining room and managing bookings, however communicating COVID safety plans and putting new measures in place are vital to make sure staff and guests have a safe experience.
We talk with the executive chef of a restaurant group in Queensland, a restaurant owner in regional Victoria and the CEO of a restaurant group in Melbourne on how they are observing compliance and keeping spirits up.
Transitioning back to service in Queensland was intense for Jake Nicolson, the executive chef of Queensland-based Ghanem Group. The group owns ten venues, both in Brisbane and Melbourne and they have been operating their Brisbane venues since the first lockdown ended.
They’re now doing solid numbers each service but, Nicolson adds, “the beginning of the transition back to service was challenging and I feel for the businesses in Victoria who have that ahead of them.”
What are the challenges he has faced that await Melbourne? “Because Victoria is only just really approaching the chance to relaunch their businesses, they will have to jump through hoops quicker than before. As limitations lift, menus will need to change and as numbers allowed to dine-in increase, banqueting and set menus will need to be written.”
He adds communicating with everyone involved is key and can be intense at times. “You’re managing people and their own personal issues. Suppliers are under pressure too, so while you’re trying to set up, you have things coming from all directions.”
In light of the restrictions in regional Victoria being eased, Sonia Anthony and her husband, chef Nick Anthony, owners of popular restaurant Masons of Bendigo, in central Victoria have opened their restaurant again to diners. It’s been a hard but well-supported road during the second lockdown. They pivoted to takeaway meal packs and a popup bakery on Saturdays, but Sonia is looking forward to having diners back.
“We have two rooms and can have 10 diners in each room for a two-hour time slot,” says Sonia. Keeping the staff on top of communication and compliance is an ongoing task she does happily. She says,“We had a fair bit of adjustment in the first lockdown so we knew what to expect. We have a great team and we all carry the load and delegate jobs to the right people, then roll it out.”
She insists on constant messaging with staff and customers. “It’s all about being over-the-top with communication and that can be overwhelming, but we need to make sure people understand what we need to do to make sure we’re all safe.”
Back to Melbourne, where October 19 is being touted as the date dining restrictions may start to ease, restaurants are preparing with COVID-safe plans. Take Nathan Toleman, CEO of the Mulberry Group, which owns and operates restaurants and cafes, including Hazel, Common Ground Project and Dessous among others.
“We are all wanting to open as soon as possible,” he says. “Hospitality is so regulated with strict guidelines for cleaning between customers and social distancing and we are preparing our team and working on as many different scenarios as possible.”
His businesses got a taste of how to operate when restrictions eased temporarily in June and he feels that things are starting to look up.
“We are hoping that we can open with a COVID plan by mid- to late-October. Opening for a few weeks in June was a great opportunity to see how things looked and the support we received was overwhelming.”
Keeping his teams positive is a challenge but again, communication is key. “It is very hard to keep spirits up in the team, yet we are all keeping positive and feel confident that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Check out the OpenTable features designed to help your restaurants communicate better with guests and staff. OpenTable has also launched a relief pricing program: no cover and subscription fees through 2020. Learn more about the Open Door program and how it can help you reopen and rebuild.