Hospitality sector preparing for another hit as lockdown comes into effect

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The hospitality sector is crying out for extra support from the government, as restaurants and cafes face another round of Covid-19 restrictions.

Vivace Restaurant

Mandy Lusk, owner of central city restaurant Vivace, said there was a mass exodus of diners when the emergency alert was sent to people’s phones on Sunday.
Photo: Heart of the City

In Auckland, at alert level 3, eateries can open, but only for contactless takeaways and deliveries.

In the rest of the country, at alert level 2, restaurants and cafes can open for diners, but there can be no more than 100 people in a defined space and everyone must be seated, separated and have a single server.

In December, the government unveiled its economic support plan in case of a resurgence of Covid-19, but that only kicks in if increased restrictions are in place for seven days or more.

Krishna Botica is the co-founder of a number of popular Auckland restaurants, including Cafe Hanoi, Saan and XuXu Dumpling Bar.

No-one disagreed with the need to lock down, , she said, but the hospitality sector continued to take a big hit – especially compared to other sectors.

“I do think it’s time the government tries to get a little bit closer to understanding what it’s like on the ground, not only for business owners, but also for the anxiety and stress of the staff.”

Even if restrictions were eased in the coming days, hospitality businesses would be feeling the impact for weeks as people continued to work from home or opted not to dine out, Botica said.

“If the best case scenario is level one, the real scenario for environments like ours is still only be able to get as many bums on seats as alert level 2 would offer.”

Government support would be “vital” for many hospitality businesses in the weeks ahead, she said.

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Mandy Lusk, owner of central city restaurant Vivace, said Sunday was one of their first really busy nights of the year with bookings for Valentine’s Day.

However, there was a mass exodus of diners when the emergency alert was sent to people’s phones, she said.

Lusk said they would not be opening at alert level 3, because of their experiences during the previous lockdowns.

“We probably lost more by opening than had we stayed closed. A lot of us closed after the second lockdown until we got back to level 2 and I’ve spoken to a few friends who own restaurants today who tried after the last one and they’re not doing it this time either.”

Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois said while many businesses had been busier during the months at alert level 1, the lack of international visitors meant they were still not operating at pre-Covid-19 levels.

“Even prior to this moment in time, we were still not back operating at full capacity in the hospitality sector anyway and so this added on top of that, it certainly adds to the challenge and the worry of many businesses right now.”

Bidois hoped the government would come to the party with more support for the sector.

Elsewhere in Auckland

Other Auckland hospitality businesses told Checkpoint reporter Louise Ternouth of the situation they found themselves in.

Vietnamese Restaurant Eat Mi was set up to do takeaway orders for the next three days – working with food delivery services to get orders out to customers.

Owner Helen said if the lockdown was extended she was worried they would not qualify for the wage subsidy to support her staff.

“On the second lockdown we didn’t have any subsidy because we didn’t lose 40 percent that’s a huge loss, not all the businesses suffer that much but you know it’s not really fair even if we suffer 20 percent we can’t get anything.”

Down the road at Longshot cafe, head barista Gabriel Cuello remained hopeful locals would support them as they did when Auckland went into alert level 3 last August.

“People have a reason to stop here because they know us and we know them so it’s our little community here.”

One suburb over in Grey Lynn, salads, sweets and savouries filled the windows of Honey Bones Cafe, with coffee flowing for eager customers.

Manager Andrew Lavich said they were sticking to a system developed last lockdown.

“So we can still serve food, everything is obviously takeaway. Everything is social distanced with the way we take payments, the way we serve food and coffee. We’ve got a service table, a payment table and then an order table.”

Nearby, owner of Big Sur cafe Ann Gou said business was already down.

“It’s like ‘not again’. This time round it’s a lot worse than before. After school holidays people are more conscious of their spending and going into another lockdown they’re spending less.”

Burger Wisconsin store manager Germaine Hall said the change in alert level was an unpleasant reminder of job uncertainty.

“It’s a bit scary because the first time I switched my job we went into lockdown then I lost my job now I’ve switched jobs again and we’ve gone into lockdown.”

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