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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Hospitality industry reflects on lessons from COVID

COVID-19 has changed the way we experience the hospitality industry – from booking a table to paying a deposit and even our choices on the menu.  

Local venues have been expected to go with the flow and adapt their business models with each change in restrictions, but will any of these changes stick after COVID restrictions end? 

OTIS Dining Hall in Kingston decided on a ‘Chef’s Selection’ event on Friday and Saturday nights, offering a set menu to just 30 customers.

“In winter we booked out nearly every seat for the whole season and it’s been really steady in spring as well,” venue owner and chef Damian Brabender said.

“We haven’t shrunk the team, but we have shrunk the offering to make sure people are getting more on the plate. When you run a set menu the customer gets more because you do not have the a la carte waste.”

However, while the weekly events have been a success by guaranteeing “bums on seats” for a set cost, Mr Brabender said he would never want to exclude a walk-in customer base.

“We don’t want to exile customers. We have customers that have been coming in every day for four years for a pepper steak and glass of wine, so we want to keep them coming in as well,” he said.

Braddon wine bar Rizla has taken a slightly different approach – offering two sittings per night with both an a la carte and set menu selection.

Owner Andrew Day said while it might have been good business for the venue to only offer a set menu, he was thinking of the post-COVID ramifications.

“It would have made sense, but I didn’t want to lose touch with the casualness of what Rizla always was,” he said. 

“If I did that at the time, I felt it would be hard to change the customer perception that they could pop in and have a cheeky glass of wine in the afternoon after work.

“It is a risk if customers will come and spend what we need them to, to survive, but it was a risk I was willing to take.”

With patron numbers restricted to only a fraction of their regular capacity, both venues took to a deposit booking system to ensure cancellations would not leave them short.

However, both owners seem to agree that charging for a no-show was a last-resort option.

“It’s protection for the business but not great customer service. If we find a booking to cover the table, we don’t charge them,” Mr Day said.

“We did have pre-paid tickets for all dining for the first three months, but we have relaxed that now. We are going into a recession and while it is hard on hospitality, it’s hard on anyone,” Mr Brabender said.

While many of the new protocols might not continue when COVID restrictions end, Mr Day said the biggest lesson from the pandemic to the hospitality industry was to “go with the flow”.

“Just roll with it. Don’t ever get too attached to a certain plan on how it should be,” he said. 

“There are 24 hours in the day and I can’t spend eight of those worrying about things out of my control.”

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