This Friday, Melbourne’s Lucky Penny Cafe was supposed to host its first live music event in months, with 50 people expected to turn up for dinner and a show to celebrate Victoria easing its business-crushing COVID-19 trading restrictions.
But the party’s over before it started. On Saturday, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews cancelled a planned lifting of patron restrictions on cafes and restaurants across the state after a spike in coronavirus cases.
Now Lucky Penny owner Matt “Lanis” Lanigan will spend the start of the week cancelling bookings and issuing refunds rather than planning for the biggest trading night since the pandemic began.
“It’s very deflating, I’d like to say I’m a positive person but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t hard to swallow,” Lanigan tells SmartCompany.
“It’s crippling my business and for us it doesn’t make any sense when I see my friends on the Gold Coast re-opening.”
Under an extension of Victoria’s state of emergency restrictions, cafes and restaurants will still only be allowed to host 20 people at a time until July 12; devastating news for an industry which has been pushed to the brink by months of restricted trading.
Venues will still be allowed to start selling alcohol without an accompanying meal from Monday.
The trickle-down effects are already being felt across Victoria’s economy. Two musicians, security guards and several casual staff will now miss out on much needed work at Lucky Penny over the next few weeks, while customers will have their birthdays and dinner parties cancelled or deferred.
For restaurant owners like Lanigan, the news is particularly deflating, dashing hopes this week would be filled with positivity and stronger trading.
While Lucky Penny is currently being supported by several federal stimulus measures, including rent deferrals, these programs expire in September, and now the buffer between restrictions easing and support fading has shortened considerably.
“We’ll miss a month worth of revenue where we would have made money, and we could have paid back some of our suppliers and our debts, we could have put some away to pay our landlord back in September,” Lanigan says.
“It really restricts our recovery.”
It’s the situation business owners have feared since restrictions were first implemented in March, that whatever path officials take out of the pandemic would be hamstrung by a two-steps forward one-step back reality.
Melissa Glentis, owner of Dilly Daly cafe in South Yarra, says her business is already receiving cancellations, with the spike in cases reigniting customer fears about going out.
“We have to start preparing ourselves for another potential lockdown,” Glentis says.
“As a cafe owner I’m just constantly on edge worrying about what we have to deal with next, with potentially little to no notice. I’m tired and just want to be able to sleep again at night.”
Speaking on the restrictions remaining in place over the weekend, Andrews said Victoria was acting on the latest medical advice.
“I know this is not where we wanted to be,” he said in a statement. “Victorians will feel disappointed and frustrated. I’m frustrated too. But we have to channel that frustration into action.”
But that message isn’t resonating with Victorian business owners. Lanigan says he’s upset about the inconsistency of the state government’s approach.
“If the goal is to maintain and manage the spread then we need to get back to business,” Lanigan says.
“If you want people to do the right thing then there should be some kind of consistency across the board, instead of mixed messages and letting people go and congregate in shopping centres and outdoor gatherings.”
Chrissie Maus, general manager of Chapel Street Precinct, an organisation representing a group of Melbourne businesses, says the government’s decision won’t just affect hard-hit restaurants, but Victoria’s entire community.
“Chapel Street Precinct is not in a hot spot for the virus and many of our businesses have now lost more money preparing for today, thinking they would have increased patrons and pre-bought food is now going to charities,” Maus says.
“It’s not only the Chapel Street businesses that are effected, it’s the social flow-on effect, and it is devastating. So many functions are now being cancelled – many were celebrations where friends were getting back together.”