Welcome back diners

Spotswood Hotel publican Cristian Barrera. Photo by Damjan Janevski. 208936_01

Benjamin Millar

Eating out is returning to the inner-west as pubs, cafes and restaurants begin to throw open their doors for business.

For the first time since being ordered to close in late March in response to a skyrocketing COVID-19 infection rate, hospitality venues are slowly welcoming customers back to their favourite local eateries and watering holes.

Strict social distancing rules remain in place, including requirements for tables to be set apart, a limit of 20 people per enclosed space and contact details from all diners being kept.

Spotswood Hotel was one of the first venues to reopen, welcoming people back on Monday.

Publican Cristian Barrera said it was a relief to finally be out of lockdown, however there could still be a rocky road ahead for hospitality venues.

“We really didn’t know how long this was going to last, everyone feared the worst,” he said.

“But we had a lot of great community support – Spotswood is a great little community, as is all Hobsons Bay and the surrounding suburbs.”

He said offering takeaway and delivery during the shutdown helped the pub to keep treading water.

Mr Barrera said the social distancing restrictions would make it difficult for many smaller venues to make ends meet, but the Spotswood Hotel is well set up to keep people spread apart.

Footscray’s Plough Hotel will reopen its doors to customers on Wednesday.

Manager Ben Foster said takeaway meals and JobKeeper payments helped keep the popular venue from collapsing.

The venue was far from idle during the shutdown, swinging into action to help keep frontline health workers fed.

Mr Foster said community donations helped the Plough to deliver more than 2000 meals to Western Health workers as they swung into action to ensure local hospitals were prepared for a potentially devastating pandemic.

“We knew the healthcare workers were very stressed getting ready and we thought it was a really worthy charitable thing to help them and feed them,” he said.

“The first week we did about 100 meals and it ballooned from that. I was quite emotional seeing how grateful the workers were, especially with everyone feeling on edge.”

Mr Foster said the focus is now on rebuilding the business and helping it to survive when JobKeeper payments dry up.

“The margins were tight going into this crisis, I know there’s going to be a lot people struggling to come out of this,” he said.

“I can’t wait to get back to serving customers. I hope it’s not too weird for people and they keep coming, we are going to need that continued support for six months or a year.”

Hobsons Bay mayor Colleen Gates welcomed the reopening of hospitality venues and beauty salons.

“Our diverse hospitality, creative and retail industries bring vibrancy to Hobsons Bay and have been significantly impacted by the pandemic,” she said.

“Shopping and supporting local business is the best way to help build our local economy.”