Melbourne's Proposed Outdoor Dining Scheme

Cause for celebration, or cause for... meh

By: Worksmith

Modelled on the success of New York City’s Outdoor Dining Program, Melbourne has been pledged $100 million in funding from the State Government and City of Melbourne. Restaurants and Bars in the CBD will be able to apply for access to the funding, designed to assist hospitality venues to adapt to outdoor dining with everything from seating to screens.

Over in NYC, around 10,000 restaurants have taken part in the Open Restaurants program, which saw many of New York’s usually car-filled streets turned into charming little outdoor eateries, reminiscent of summers spent in Europe, where, even pre-COVID, al fresco dining is a way of life. Reading Alan Sytsma's rose-coloured review of outdoor dining in a major city makes it seem like the answer we’ve all been waiting for, both pre and post-COVID.

Ah, to imagine a world where it doesn’t take a global pandemic for local councils to support hospitality businesses, and for locals and visitors alike to get maximum enjoyment out of their city streets. As a patron, it’s a wonderful thought (minus the hayfever hell that rains on the Melbourne CBD each Summer thanks to its hundreds of Plain Trees), but as a hospitality industry worker, this idea is basically Jarlsberg. It’s filled with holes.

Gemima Cody wrote about it in Good Food, spoke to a number of names in Melbourne’s hospo circle as they too assessed what Outdoor dining means for us. … this is what they had to say about the idea:

Iain Ling, The Lincoln, Carlton
“It's positive that the government is looking at some problems in the industry but it makes no sense to have enormous, indoor spaces that will sit empty. To fire up the kitchen for maybe 10 to 20 people who can fit outside is impractical."

Melbourne's weather is also a major concern. "No umbrellas can stop our rain when it comes down," says Ling. "Do you send all your staff home when people don't show up?"

Mallory Wall, Di Stasio Citta
"Outdoor dining sounds great, but logistically and practically it does not really help us. We need a realistic plan to properly open."

Simon Blacher, Common Group (Hanoi Hannah, Neptune, Firebird & Tokyo Tina)
“We’ll maximise the opportunity, but some people have more footpath than others.” Tokyo Tina would only have meaningful space if restaurants are allowed to use car parking spaces on the road.

Carlo Grossi, Grossi Florentino
“The idea is great in the sense of reactivating our city streets”, but as a restaurant's sole revenue stream, it's not viable in Melbourne.

Having spoken to friends and industry colleagues over in NYC, he’s expressed concern after learning from them that "outdoor dining has not supplemented the loss of income that indoor dining supplies as their bread-and-butter turnover."

It may be pitched as a lifeline to Melbourne’s hospitality industry, but the stark reality is that it’s more along the lines of a semi-inflated floatie - just enough for some venues to continue to keep their heads above water, but not enough to carry them to the safety of dry land.

Outdoor dining is a step in the right direction, but our industry is still waiting for steps 2,3,4,5,6… and so on. It’s been over six months without a true, viable solution from or industry. So who do we turn to in order to take the steps we need to, to get where we need to be? Frankly, it seems like we have only to turn to each other. This industry is incredibly innovative, supportive, and resilient, so let’s take it upon ourselves to provide a solution for the government. We know what’s best for us.

If you’ve got a solution for our Melbourne’s hospitality venues, we want (and need) to hear it. Shoot an email to daisy@worksmith.io, or take five minutes to tell us here.