Adding more outdoor-style dining may stimulate Canberra’s economy following the effects of COVID-19, says one University of Canberra (UC) lecturer.
Governments around the world have allowed cafes and restaurants to extend permits outside their venues during pandemic restrictions, allowing patrons to spill out onto the public realm and increase venue capacity while adhering to social distancing rules.
UC assistant professor Dr Cathy Hope ran the 2019 Haig Park experiments for user experience and said now would be a good time to trial the outdoor dining method.
“I think COVID-19 has given us the best opportunity to try this out now and it will be a positive to take away from the situation if we see that it works,” she said.
“Not only will it get more people through these small businesses that are struggling at the moment, but it will give us the chance to see if it’s viable.”
Under current COVID-19 restrictions hospitality venues are permitted to have a maximum of 20 people, or one person per 4sqm, in each enclosed area.
Restrictions to allow a maximum of 100 people, or one person per 4sqm, are set to come into effect from 19 June.
Dr Hope said Canberra venues such as Garema Place and Petrie Plaza would be suitable for the outdoor dining concept, and that it would benefit the city past the pandemic.
“Some of the world’s greatest plazas are vital because they are creating that outdoor experience for people who dine there,” she said.
“Studies have shown that those areas are not only more likely to attract people but attractive active travel as well — you have smells, sights, faces and that causes incidental walking.
“I think we should take this opportunity and allow Canberra the opportunity to have more outdoor seating.”
An ACT Government spokesperson said there were already 200 businesses in the territory with outdoor dining permits.
“Across the ACT more than 200 businesses have permits which allow them to have outdoor dining arrangements,” they said.
“There are a range of considerations that need to be factored in and assessed when it comes to the use of public spaces such as accessibility of footpath and other surrounding areas, safety and amenity. It can also have other impacts, such as on existing liquor licensing arrangements.”
Dr Hope said she hoped the ACT Government would get behind the idea, and that businesses and customers adhere to all restrictions.
“I think if the ACT Government can find a way to assist these businesses on carrying it out safely, I absolutely think they would take it on board,” she said.
“It will come down to businesses putting down markers for social distancing purposes and customers adhering to all these rules as well.
“Customers may have to bring their own blankets in winter — certainly in the next few months in Canberra at least.”