Restaurants, pubs, cafes and bistros in the Latrobe Valley eager to open again after easing of restrictions in regional Victoria

Morwell Bowling Club gaming attendant Leanne Lawrence pours a beer as the venue adapts its outdoor areas to seat more patrons. photograph hayley mills.
Morwell Bowling Club gaming attendant Leanne Lawrence pours a beer as the venue adapts its outdoor areas to seat more patrons. photograph hayley mills.

A Collective sigh of relief reverberated across the state this week as regional Victorians were told they could once again enjoy some of life's simple pleasures, with news of a move to Step 3 of the roadmap out of coronavirus.

Businesses big and small across almost every industry have been in a constant state of flux for most of 2020, and none more so than hospitality.

Restaurants, cafes, pubs and bistros are once again open for dine-in service across regional Victoria in a welcome return for patrons, publicans and business owners alike.

Moe Racing Club chief executive officer Shane Berry said the venue was inundated with calls after Premier Daniel Andrews announced the relaxed restrictions on Tuesday morning.

"As soon as the government made the announcement, which I think was at 10.55am, by about 11.05am the phone was ringing hot," Mr Berry said.

"It's all come in very quickly and we welcome it absolutely; it's not quite where we were before but it's something and it indicates good will from the government."

COVIDSafe procedures enacted during the first lockdown will be a regular feature again to ensure the ongoing safety of employees and patrons, with some changes to trading practices.

"We're putting procedures in place to manage patrons in the venue, and we'll be taking all details through the register and also doing temperature checks for patrons coming into the venue," Mr Berry said.

"We're not going to be doing lunches through the bistro during the day, but we'll open the TAB up and be doing bar trade, and that's how we'll be trading from 11am until 4.30pm.

"Then we'll shut down, do a full clean and reopen for dinner service for 20 people."

For many businesses, the advent of takeaway offerings have proved so popular they are now a mainstay.

"Takeaway trade has been really good and we staff up to make sure that if you place an order at 6.15pm the meals are hot and at your door ready to go," Mr Berry said.

"We've been through this before so we've got an idea of how to run a COVIDSafe venue, so we don't see this as an issue and the club is all over it, which is what licensed clubs do."

The Moe Racing Club is one of many hospitality venues across Victoria preparing to open door to fine-in patrons from Thursday as regional Victoria progresses to Step 3 of the state government's roadmap. photograph hayley mills.

The Moe Racing Club is one of many hospitality venues across Victoria preparing to open door to fine-in patrons from Thursday as regional Victoria progresses to Step 3 of the state government's roadmap. photograph hayley mills.

Moe RSL senior supervisor Cathryn Ross said the venue would likely open up for dine-in service on Monday, with 10 patrons in each of its two rooms in accordance with density limits.

"We will use the same COVIDSafe plan as last time, with social distancing rules and things like that," Ms Ross said.

"It will be very nice to have someone sitting in the restaurant and we will still have takeaway and pick-up seven days a week for both lunch and dinner.

"We will be running two sessions - 11.30am and 1pm for lunch and 5.30pm and 7pm for dinner time, so we should be able to get around 80 people through the venue in a day."

Hoteliers have also welcomed the news of regional Victoria's progression to Step 3 of the roadmap, with the peak tourism body declaring eased restrictions would enable businesses "to take the first positive steps towards normality".

"Regional Victorians should be congratulated for achieving this significant milestone," Tourism Accommodation Australia Victoria general manager Dougal Hollis said.

"Accommodation providers can't wait to share in their celebrations as people return to their normal favourite regional hotels to reconnect with family and friends and restore a sense of normality and balance in their lives.

"Hoteliers appreciate they have been entrusted with an important responsibility to re-open in a COVIDSafe and sustainable way and stand ready to meet this challenge."

Morwell Bowling Club is one of many hospitality venues having to adapt to Step 3 of the state government's coronavirus roadmap.

As of Thursday, 10 patrons can sit inside in each space and up to 50 customers can sit outside, in line with density restrictions.

Morwell Bowling Club general manager Teena Johnson said the club is adapting some of its outside areas to seat more people.

"We have a terrace so we will utilise that space and use the licensed space near the green, it will be will be interesting to see how people take to it, if they are willing to sit outside," she said.

"Sitting outside at the bowling club is not something that is usually done and since we are still in September it is still a bit chilly outside, I am just not sure how people will feel about it.

"There are also extra expenses in setting up outside areas to work as dining areas ... I know there are a lot of places that just won't open up."

Ms Johnson said she hoped the previous rules of 20 patrons per inside area would be reinstated.

"But, this is what has been handed down and we will have to give it a go and just see what happens," she said.

"The Morwell Bowling Club will keep doing takeaway five days a week and seven nights a week, that has been going quite well ... I think the members especially liked having that option while our doors were closed.

"The next step will also be interesting, I am hoping it won't be at the end of November, that is a long time to wait, but we just have to do what we need to do and play by the rules and hopefully get the numbers down."

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