Dining in the street: Outdoor hospitality experiment set to continue

Melbourne’s love affair with outdoor dining and drinking will continue until the end of May, offering a much-needed salve to the city’s hospitality sector.

On Tuesday night, Melbourne City Council unanimously voted to extend the city’s pop-up outdoor dining and drinking venues until the eve of winter, investing a further $2.2 million to the program.

Restaurant tsar Chris Lucas at his Chin Chin parklet.Credit:Justin McManus

It brings the city’s total spending on outdoor dining infrastructure, maintenance and laneway closures to $7.7 million, bolstered by a $100 million Melbourne City Recovery Fund in partnership with the state government.

The council has issued almost 1500 temporary licences to venues offering footpath trading, and installed more than 200 outdoor dining “parklets”, converting carparking spaces into pop-up venues.

Chin Chin owner Chris Lucas told The Age last month the parklet at his venue had been an effective way to offset the reduced number of patrons allowed indoors.

Melbourne lord mayor Sally Capp said the program had “brought the buzz” back to the CBD, attracting patrons from across the city and state.

“The latest lockdown has already had a major impact on our business community – particularly the hospitality industry – so we’re doing everything we can to provide certainty for businesses once we emerge from lockdown,” Cr Capp said.

Last month, a survey of hospitality venues participating in the scheme found overwhelming support for increased flexibility, with 81 per cent reporting having “parklets” had helped them reopen after months of rolling lockdowns, and 76 per cent reporting they had helped them maintain seating capacity in their venues.

With the city’s hospitality sector again thrown into uncertainty by the five-day lockdown due to end at midnight on Wednesday, the Victorian government is under growing pressure to compensate businesses devastated by a snap lockdown on what was to be one of the busiest hospitality weekends of recent years.

Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra said on Sunday the financial pain caused by the five-day lockdown would be “well north” of $500 million, and more likely edging towards $1 billion.

Cr Capp said businesses could have confidence that outdoor dining would continue in the City of Melbourne until winter and the council was examining additional ways it could support outdoor dining into the cooler months, such as weather protection.

“The latest lockdown has already had a major impact on our business community – particularly the hospitality industry – so we’re doing everything we can to provide certainty for businesses once we emerge from lockdown,” she said.

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