The never-ending story of lockdown
How things can change in an instant. A month ago I was writing a piece about going into lockdown and hoping it would be over quickly and yet here we are, still sitting at our kitchen benches wondering if this lockdown will actually ever end. What I do know is that by the time you read this Sydney will still be in lockdown.Service and creating a sense of community will be what makes a restaurant successful into the future.
I did say last time we wouldn’t do takeaway this time around and we haven’t in the classic form. But we thought it was a good time to try something else, so we cooked a few cassoulets and a vegetarian pasta bake and offered them up for delivery along with wine (of course). Well, to say I was surprised by the response is an understatement. They sold out within a couple of hours.
The model seems to have worked very well and we are continuing it every fortnight throughout lockdown. In the alternate weeks, we roast our long-time signature Chateaubriand and serve it hot every Friday afternoon for collection. There’s also something cathartic about driving all-around Sydney, visiting places I never had before. I’ll be honest that the avoidance of home-schooling for a day or two each week is an added bonus!
The reality though, is this pivot is a great learning curve and short-term cash flow Band-Aid, not a forever business model. My industry has been beset on all sides for almost two years. We thought it had settled but this outbreak has taken things to a completely different level.
In 2020 we came out of lockdown after seven weeks; this lockdown will be a minimum of nine weeks and with significantly less government support during, and it would appear, virtually zero support afterwards. I really do struggle to see how small and independent venues will survive.
I’ve written before about how I see the future of restaurants and it has morphed again. I certainly think a takeaway/home meal sideline will actually now be essential for many venues. The working-from-home revolution boomed in 2020 and now this latest outbreak has changed that up to another level, so those that are at home are looking for another meal option that isn’t just cheap noodles from UberEATS.
Service and creating a sense of community will be what makes a restaurant successful into the future. CBD venues such as mine will need to find a way to convince landlords that the 2019 rental values are no longer the same, but there’ll be a bloodbath in the meantime.The biggest trend is vaccination passports and I will be very surprised if we don’t have a similar requirement for our guests.
What I do know is that every day I am blown away with the innovations and experiments my fellow restaurateurs have come up with to find a way through this mess. I’ve tried to order from at least one or two restaurants every week that wouldn’t normally do takeaway. Not only does it mean I don’t have to cook, but it also inspires me to keep trying things as well.
So, what is next? Who really knows but I always look to London, New York and Paris for trends that will flow into Sydney. Right now, the biggest trend is vaccination passports and I will be very surprised if, as we open up into this festive period, we don’t have a similar requirement for our guests. Already, everyone must check-in, so presenting a COVID-19 vaccination certificate isn’t too much more. Once we get to the sort of numbers that make this feasible, I can only hope people will also feel comfortable about going out to dine again.
Nothing has taught us more about the swift changing of the rules than the past 18 months and I’ve learnt more about myself as a business owner than I ever knew possible. I hate to admit that I’m better in a crisis than during the plain sailing periods. No wonder I opened my own restaurant: it’s basically always in crisis in some way, shape or form.
I can’t wait to see you all again, at the bar or seated at a table. But in the meantime, I’ll see you with a box of wine or bag of food.