Victorian lockdown sees restaurants face Valentine’s losses of tens of thousands


Melbourne business owners have described the latest lockdown as “heartbreaking” after losing tens of thousands of dollars in income and stock set for bumper Valentine’s Day celebrations.

Will Newton’s restaurant on Melbourne’s famous Chapel St was made for the day considering it’s called Lover, but he was “blindsided” by the snap decision to impose a COVID-19 lockdown before its busiest night of the year.

As a result, his restaurant lost $40,000 in income and between $5,000 and $10,000 in produce, including 500 oysters that went uneaten.

“We were fully booked for the whole weekend being that our name is Lover — it is our time to shine — and we were really looking forward to the extra income that was going to come from the Valentine’s surge,” he told news.com.au.

“But we are also not usually opened on Sundays so this year it would have provided an extra day of income, which was going to be welcome after a shocking 2020. But the lockdown came out of no where, which was the most shocking and heartbreaking part as we had already got the majority of fresh ingredients in and the most expensive ones — with protein and seafood — and ordered and paid for them.”

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Mr Newton was forced to make 148 calls to follow up with people who had reserved a spot for Valentine’s Day, but no one was eager to rebook, he said.

“So we lost hundreds of bookings over the next five days and beyond and also people stopped booking for this week and weekend,” he added.

Mr Newton said he would also have to front up $20,000 in staff wages because the business is no longer eligible for JobKeeper payments.

Victoria’s hospitality sector, which had forked out $27 million on fresh produce to cover its busiest weekend of the year, is on track to lose $100 million, said Restaurant and Catering Association chief Wes Lambert.

The overall cost to businesses across Victoria will be huge — with $1 billion wiped from the economy over the five days — added Chrissie Maus, general manager of Chapel Street Precinct Association. She called on the government to provide support quickly.

“Most of our businesses were totally booked out for Valentine’s Day and so much food has been destroyed or donated to Foodbank,” she said. “Many of our florists have been left with left over stock, it’s heartbreaking. We clearly need more government support and quickly.

“Many of our businesses dropped out of qualification at the end of December for JobKeeper. It’s what happens now they don’t qualify if there is a longer lockdown, or we keep going in and out of confidence shattering lockdowns.”

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Another restaurant owner who has lost out is Arthur Georgiou, who’s iconic Italian outfit Caffe e Cucina in South Yarra has operated for 32 years. It was fully booked for Valentine’s Day and stock had already been purchased for the planned set menu.

“Notably our lobsters — we brought in 24 and threw out 12 and they are not cheap,” he said.

“We did takeaway yesterday which was extremely well supported, but we have just done some preliminary figures and according to the forecast … we were down 93 per cent which is thousands of dollars we’ve lost out on,” he said.

Mr Georgiou had an inkling there might be a lockdown but when it became reality he said he went through a range of emotions.

He added that the third round of lockdown had been “increasingly tough” and his restaurant was now facing a very difficult week financially.

“The immediate emotion was the sadness of not being able to provide the dining experience for all our beautiful customers that come specifically — sometimes only once a year — to our restaurant on Valentine’s, that was the immediate thought, and disappointment that came across our minds and the next few days are an unknown — we aren’t through it,” he added.

But the fight isn’t over, Mr Newton said. Businesses along Chapel St are floating an idea to host Valentine’s Day once the strip can open and will be asking locals to rally around them.

“When we reopened last time the community was really great around supporting hospitality and shopping local and people basically went out and got boozed for two months straight and it was a weekend every night,” he said. “We are going to try and think of things to get people back out and excited again.”

Until than, Ms Maus is calling on Victorians to support local when spending every single dollar.

“We need everyone’s help to get every single business to the other side of this pandemic,” she said.

“Now more than ever its important to look after your friends, family and co-workers. By supporting local during this quick lockdown, we will emerge again stronger than ever.”

Mr Georgiou echoes the call for support considering businesses thought they had finally escaped the nightmare of 2020.

“This time it’s more of a deeper effect because we were just getting back to some form of consistency and back to normality where we felt that this was behind us,” he said.



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