Life & Style

Restrictions are easing but does that mean we can eat out in our fav cafes and restaurants?

The announcement by the NSW Government earlier this week that cafes and restaurants will be permitted to seat 10 patrons at any one time from Friday 15 May, was the first sign that life is, slowly, returning to normal.

Interested to know what this means for cafes and restaurants in Newcastle, this week we spoke to a number of café and restaurant owners to get their thoughts on how this first phase will look for them and what changes they’ll be making, if any at all. MEET restaurant and bar have decided to reopen, making some major adjustments to their unique dining space in order to do so.

Luciano - MEET, Newcastle

We are very excited to be able to open our doors again and welcome back our customers for an intimate dining experience. While our restaurant is not its usual bustling self, we have an opportunity to offer our customers a delicious modified menu consisting of some of the favourites, like our BBQ platter, and a range of share plates, many items which we will incorporating into our seasonal Winter menu. Our bar area, at the Darby Street entrance, has been set up as a cosy and ambient space to enjoy your dining experience. At this stage we cannot offer the all you can eat experience, however we can guarantee our customers will thoroughly enjoy the range of dishes we have on offer. We are open Wednesday to Sunday from 5pm. If you would like to make a reservation please send an email to [email protected]

The Edwards, Newcastle West

We're thrilled to be able to welcome back our faithful Eddie followers after being apart for so long. We want to allow a group of 10 to come together for the first time in weeks and not feel rushed... so we have created the 'Exclusive Chefs Table' which is One Table for 10 people each night so you can have the Eddies experience all to yourself for three hours of food, booze and good times.

We are taking booking from Wed-Sun evenings and the cost is $120pp which includes an Eddies seasonal spread and drinks package, if you're interested in making a booking just call 02 4940 0112.

Mel - Pegs Cafe, Whitebridge

At this stage Pegs is staying as is doing our takeaways and seeing how it all unfolds over the weekend. Next weekend we are looking at open Saturday and Sunday with set times, bookings and also offering a set menu "lunch for 10" $70 per head on Saturday. But keep an eye out on what changes may be coming to Pegs.

Suspension - Islington

We won’t be opening for in-house dining on Friday. We’re still in the process of doing some much-needed renos! We’ll still be serving takeaway coffee and food but we will now have seating out the front for people to enjoy their meals and coffee and our trading hours remains 7 days, 6am-5pm.

Anthony Strachan - Three Monkeys Cafe, Darby St

The Monkeys will reopen the downstairs area of the cafe for a dine in experience where we will have 3 tables set up with between two to four people with a maximum of the ten people allowed. We are going to be experimenting with how we allocate the tables, at the moment it will be first come first served but it may be that we do a booking system down the track but with ten seats it's going to be interesting, all we ask is that people are patient with us as it's all trial and error at the moment. Until the restrictions are further eased, takeaways will be our main focus including our new takeaway breakfast boxes.

Bec Bowie - Estabars, Newcastle

We plan on sticking to the takeaway model, which has saved us, as well as offering the 10 seat option as a way of being able to offer that beautiful experience of being able to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee from a ceramic cup. We've been so lucky that we've had the park across the road where our guests can sit and enjoy our food takeaway. We will continue with the 6:30am-12pm trading hours to keep things tight. What we have managed to do and am really proud of is that we've been able to keep working with our suppliers and using their produce within the takeaway menu and the produce boxes we've created and will continue to do this. 

Alina - The Cunning Culinarian, Maitland

We’ve had a lot of discussion as a team about how we should respond to the easing of restrictions on Friday. Customers are excited and asking questions, and we don’t want to let them down. Going into covid restrictions, we decided to close for dine-in completely at the point of the 4sq/m pp rule being implemented, as it meant we could only seat a maximum 6 (and a half!) people. Our team felt that policing numbers and explaining to customers would be challenging, and I believe it would be even more so now with so many people focused on the number 10, and not realising that the square metre rule also still applies.

So we've decided for now we won’t be making any changes to service, and we are just so grateful to our customers for continuing to support us as a takeaway only venue. We have loved the increased sense of connection and community that this Covid situation has brought, and we will continue to choose to focus on the positives that have come from it. We know that might disappoint some people, but it feels too soon, and we would rather wait until the decision to re-open is an easy one that we can all feel positive about.

Andrew Macdonald - Signal Box, Newcastle

There is a lot to consider when we think about the recent easing of restrictions for trading and the possible changes we could make to our business.  It took us a lot of time and effort to completely pivot our business to a take away only model and I think for this business it was particularly hard as we were so new.  Having said that, the take-away model has been a surprising success for us with Signal Box, and we of course want this to continue.  The guys are doing huge numbers each week and the special menus they have created for key celebrations like Easter and Mother’s Day have sold out each time.  We’ve already had enquiries asking if we will do this type of thing for Christmas!  

Another part of our deliberation centres around the fact that at Signal Box our dining experience is equally important to us as the food.  It’s really hard for us to create the atmosphere we are after with only 10 diners.  And of course there is the menu to consider.  When we do re-open we want to launch a new menu so at this stage we think it is better for us to concentrate on that, rather than to create an interim menu to suit the current restrictions. 

So, we don’t expect to be changing our formula for at least the next two weeks.  We’ll wait and see if further easing of restrictions are made and we can then re-evaluate from there.

and The Little Nel, Nelson Bay

The Little Nel has been a success story for us with the change to take away.  We added in take away dinner Wednesday through to Sunday, a service period that we previously didn’t offer, and with that the team are serving up to 100 people a day.  Mat, our Head-Chef and Co-Owner has also put on the menu specials each weekend and these are selling out faster than he can cook them! And of course coffee has always been a huge part of our business and this has thankfully continued to thrive.

Once we do open back up the problem for us will be how we manage the typically high levels of demand we have, serving up to 400 people per day prior to COVID, with these tight restrictions? We are anxious to get back open and to start seeing that level of activity back, but we want to do it properly and in a way that keeps all of our customers happy.

For now, we think the best thing to do is wait and see what the next level of restrictions will be. Hopefully they will allow more people back in so that we are able to formulate a plan that keeps our current take away customers happy as well as the new wave of dine-in customers.

Taiyo Namba - Nagisa, Honeysuckle & Susuru, Newcastle

Nagisa is taking reservations for ten because we can. It’s been really hard for Nagisa with takeaway and deliveries. It’s so far from what we do. Where Susuru is quite busy and doing ok, but we’ll probably still try and take ten in, because people still want that experience. Takeaway and delivery has been really interesting, but it’s not what we do, it’s not what we’re in this for.

If we can take ten patrons in, we absolutely will. To be honest, though, it’s hard to do a hybrid, it’s hard to do both. So, we’ll just have to start it and see how we go. We’ll still do takeaway for the moment, but I think once it gets to 40 patrons, we’ll be able to knock it on the head. It’s not viable for us at the moment.”

Lou - Schilly Thai Fusion, The Corner Charlestown Square

It’s exciting to think we can soon have bums on seats and give a more personal customer experience. But the downside is the grey area with the logistics on what is and what's not allowed. The government haven't been very specific other than up to 10 people within the 4 square metre rule. We will be sticking with our pick up and delivery service for now until we know more. 

Suzie Vincent - Subo, Newcastle

At the moment, the easing of restrictions doesn't mean much. More than 10 guests per evening are required to run a viable restaurant. Combined with the considerable changes we have made in operating and the risk of a second wave, we have decided to continue with Subo at Home until restrictions ease to a point that a decision to re-open is an easy one.

Neil Slater - Scratchleys on the Wharf, Newcastle

The recent announcement won’t change the way in which Scratchley’s is operating we will, however, continue to offer delivery and takeaway from the restaurant and pick up from the takeaway window. To open the restaurant for 10 guests would only be 4% of our capacity, and it would be kind of be weird, 10 seats make the venue look really empty.

Until NSW Health release more details and it becomes a lot clearer on how we can operate with the restrictions in place, rather than just our interpretations, we won’t be opening for trade. At this point what we’re doing is gearing up for phase two on June 12th when you’ll be allowed 20 people in your venue, which becomes something we can work with. The positive thing is that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, so long as we're aiming for that, we can keep going.

Jess - Bao Brothers, Charlestown & Newcastle

Not a lot of changes on the cards for us with Stage 1 but there’ll be quite a few changes moving into Stage 2 when the time comes. We’ll continue to be open from Wed - Sun, 12pm-2:30 and 5pm-8:30 and taking online and takeaway orders. We were previously doing our own deliveries for lunch and dinner but for Stage 1 we are going to cease lunch time deliveries, Ubereats will still be available though.

We will be placing tables outside so people can enjoy their takeaway if they choose to sit, but not moving to any table service yet. At this stage there will be no changes to the CBD pop up.

Eric - Antojitos, Newcastle

The easing of restrictions will bring some benefits to our business (antojitos). Initially suffering a 50% decline in business during the 1st week of lockdown, we are now trading at 70% as takeaway only with business continuing to grow every week. The allowance of 10 dine-in customers, as part of Stage 1 restrictions, will allow us to transition some customers from takeaway to dine-in, and will provide us an opportunity to enforce our specific hygiene and social distancing plan with smaller groups before restrictions are further eased. However, we do not anticipate any significant financial benefits as a result of Stage 1 restrictions.

We believe the allowance of 10 dine-in customers will have little, if any, effect financially for many restaurants. Small restaurants that have been closed, or restaurants that are already trading, will benefit the most as it will allow them to “settle in”, convert takeaway diners to dine-in customers, and get used to enforcing their specific hygiene plan. However, the 10 seat limit will not be a viable condition for many larger restaurants/pubs to re-open. Of interest will be the scenario where restaurants are forced (or choose) to remain closed until the 100 seat capacity is allowed, and how social distancing will be maintained.

We believe the success of our industry in beating the pandemic will largely lie on the shoulders of restaurant owners and venue operators to create and enforce strict restrictions and hygiene plans. In fact, it is of our opinion that operators will need to be even more strict with hygiene and social distancing measures, as restrictions are eased, to counter the risks associated with the increase in people in restaurants and dining venues. This will be a direct contradiction for a business owner that is normally looking for ways to drive sales, increase patronage, etc.- especially during a time of financial hardship. We will be taking a very conservative approach to dining in, limiting seats and enforcing social distancing as required, as we believe customers will be very sensitive to the way restaurants handle themselves during the easing of restrictions. Protecting a restaurant's reputation and eliminating chances of infection will be extremely important.

We are hoping antojitos will return to some normalcy within the next 3-6 months. However, the pandemic has really shaken up the hospitality industry and forced a “reset” that is requiring all restaurant owners, including ourselves, to revisit concept, efficiencies, menus, staffing, delivery, and more.