Coronavirus: 'A revival': Wedding venue and cafe owners overjoyed at alert level 1 announcement

A table set for a wedding
No more social distancing and single servers welcomed by business owners. Photo credit: Getty.

Business owners in the hospitality industry say they're overjoyed about moving to COVID-19 alert level 1, calling it "a revival".

For weddings, it means fewer fears about health risks and the ability to invite over 100 guests. 

Similarly, cafes struggling to rebuild cash flow after lockdown will soon be able to seat and serve more customers.

At a COVID-19 press conference on Monday afternoon, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that New Zealand will move to alert level 1 at midnight. Monday's decision follows 17 days of no new COVID-19 cases. 

For business owners forced to postpone events and struggling to keep staff employed the move can't come soon enough.

Jane and Johnny Mantell, owners of Mt Eden-based wedding and function venue Mantells, said that the news represents "a revival". During COVID-19, couples typically felt "in limbo" after social distancing requirements and maximum gatherings forced weddings to be put on hold.

"Clients were asking, 'should we push the date out till next year'...they didn't know how long to push it out for," Jane explained. 

The owners expect that removal of social distancing will help people to feel a lot more confident and relaxed about hosting - and attending - events.  

"People are raring to go but were just waiting for the announcement…[they're] keen to get back into socialising and celebrating life," Johnny added.

Since the March lockdown, the owners sum up the wedding business as "quiet". The wage subsidy had helped to keep staff employed during months of uncertainty.   

"It's stressful: you're worried about staff, the fact that you're going to have to let some of them go because business is down," Jane explained.

"It's been a bit like being in no mans' land": the waiting and uncertainty of it all coming's coming back slowly."

Although gathering limits were lifted to 100 people on May 29, many couples had guest lists over that number. Those with family and friends overseas may choose to wait even longer, until border restrictions are lifted.

With level 2 restrictions removed and manual guest sign in no longer required, the owners now expect bookings and wedding events to ramp up.

"We'll get an official guest list from our clients, hand hygiene is top priority.  

"Apart from that, we'll be pretty much back to normal."

Sam, who owns Just Like Martha cafe in Three Kings, Auckland, said that he's looking forward to seating and serving more customers.  Like many small businesses owners in the hospitality industry, he expects his revenue to go up.

"Moving to alert level 1 will reduce labour costs, as we won't have one waiter per table.

"This put our business under a lot of pressure and increased operational costs," he said.

Under alert level 1, New Zealanders are asked to maintain hand hygiene and contact diaries.   

Manual sign-in is no longer required.  However, businesses are asked to display the QR code for contact tracing at the entrance of their premises.