By Jim Birchall

A couple of issues back, The PC Times reached out to local businesses to share their stories about how they were coping during the lockdown.

After receiving a prize of two free pizzas from Domino Beachlands (thanks to a guess the rugby score competition), this reporter was overwhelmed by the generosity of owner Rishor and tales of other hospitality businesses connecting with their market, despite doing it tough.  

The sector, along with tourism, has arguably taken the heaviest hit from the pandemic and its associated impositions to trade.

In the past fortnight, the Government has signalled freedom to sectors badly affected by the lockdown, such as those in the food and beverage trade. In theory, the third stage of this gradual release allows for restaurants and bars and other close-contact businesses to open to a maximum of fifty people whilst observing stringent distancing and infection protocols.

But will it be enough to keep these businesses afloat and viable as summer approaches?

Cole Saunders from the Franklin Taphouse and Kitchen in Beachlands is sceptical of the in-principle announcements and believes they will make little impact. “The uncertainty for our sector is ridiculous, we were expecting to receive a roadmap on the 4th of October. We can’t operate with 2-metre table spacing or a max of 50 guests inside. We have venues of various sizes, and none will be profitable with the (current) criteria”, said Cole.

All businesses, out of necessity, have been pushed to think laterally, and Cole said they are no different. “We have been forced to adopt a takeaway model. Although it being very hard for a dine-in focused bar and restaurant, our team has adjusted well. We are offering different takeaway options at our venues”. Cole adds that “the support (from east Aucklanders) has been outstanding, and we can’t thank our locals enough”.

The restrictions are also affecting staff well-being. On-going uncertainty has left some in a state of purgatory, working reduced hours with no restart date.” They don’t know when they can get back to working properly,” said Cole. Operating in our takeaway model is not viable for us or our team. They love our customers and can’t wait to get back to normal.”

In a further blow, the Government has rescinded a part of the framework allowing hospitality providers to accommodate one group at a time in an outdoor space, despite the interaction allowing for contactless takeaway options. According to Cole, The Franklin and Grangers restaurants had a huge upswell in neighbourly support which saw their outdoor areas booked out within minutes-before the clarification was made by the Government. These bookings have had to be cancelled.

David Johnston from Hallertau in Clevedon said his team is also at the forefront of innovation “busy creating a number of cool food ideas that we thought might be useful for our customers while they were stuck at home. Our chefs created a fresh pasta and sauce meal kit using our reusable 1litre keeper bottles, and we’ve just completed a range of new takeaway menu items”.

Johnston said staff have also been keeping busy with “cleaning, painting, and gardening so we’ll be ready to go just as soon as we can”.

Hallertau is treading carefully considering the recent announcements. Johnston said that “the path forward for us is still really unclear. We’re focussed day to day on being ready to welcome guests back just as soon as we can, and we’ll take any restrictions in numbers just as positively as possible.”

“We’re hopeful that we keep our team together and it’s been great over the past few weeks to be able to do a few takeaways and get the team back in the business.”

Johnston thinks the industry could use some assistance in a vocation extremely vulnerable to snap-lockdowns ” we take a big financial hit every time we close and open. We throw out stock and it takes a long time to get back to normal trading levels after a soft re-opening.”