Coronavirus: Alert level 1 move a 'game-changer' for hospitality - industry expert

Man served food at a restaurant
For bars, restaurants and cafes, removal of social distancing rules can't come soon enough. Photo credit: Getty.

An expert in the hospitality industry says that a move to COVID-19 alert level 1 will be a "game-changer".

While the head of Retail NZ hopes the move will signal to consumers that it's safe to shop at retail outlets.

Ahead of Monday's decision on whether New Zealand will move to alert level 1, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed on Wednesday what that will look like.  

Under alert level 1, all current rules and restrictions on businesses and services will be "essentially lifted". 

For hospitality businesses, the need for single servers and separate tables will be removed, as under alert level 1, there are no requirements for physical distancing.  

Following the update, Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois, said that relaxing of social distancing and single-server rules is a "game-changer" for hospitality businesses, as their turnover will increase. For customers, it means faster service.  

"Removing the single server rule, reducing the need for distancing between tables and allowing counter service...these three things will speed up service allowing for a quicker turnover of customers," Bidois said.

Under alert level 1, bars will be able to serve at the counter. Allowing multiple servers across tables will help to reduce staff costs.  

"In a weekly member survey, the single server rule was ranked as the single most challenging aspect of operating under alert level 2, with physical distance ranking second," Bidois said.

Under alert level 2, businesses were carrying increased staff costs and fewer customers. For many, this made the cost of reopening too high.

"[For] bars, there's a need to allow greater numbers of customers. These businesses are not set up for limited numbers, physical distancing or table service, so a move to level 1 will mean a return to a profitable trading environment," Bidois added.

The ability for all cafes to serve their customers at the counter is a "game-changer".

"Whilst there has been a change in ruling on counter service, it [currently] only applies to non-licensed premises and many cafes carry a liquor license," Bidois said.

Cafes also tend to be smaller venues, where spacing tables can be challenging, reducing the number of customers they're able to serve. 

"Removing the physical distancing requirements will also be welcomed for these businesses," Bidois added.

A month ago, a Restaurant Association member survey revealed that 89 percent had experienced a downturn in business, with 75 percent needing to cut staff to stay afloat.  

As wage subsidies start to run out, the ability to accommodate and serve more customers under alert level 1 will be a welcome change for struggling business owners, particularly those in hospitality.

Greg Harford, chief executive of Retail New Zealand said that as almost all restrictions would be lifted, a potential move to alert level 1 is "really good news" for the retail sector.

"This will send a strong signal to consumers that it's safe to get out to the shops and hopefully help New Zealand get back to a greater sense of normality," he said.  

"The sooner the nation can safely move to level 1, the better it will be, both for consumers who want to get back to normal, as well as businesses."

Following enforced closure during lockdown, many retail businesses are still operating in survival mode.

"A move to level 1 will be welcomed by those businesses, but many really still need additional Government support," Harford added.

For the wider public, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that at level 1, hand hygiene and cough etiquette were still important. People should continue to stay home if they're sick and see a Doctor if they're unwell.

She is encouraging all Kiwis to use the NZ COVID-19 Tracer app, and for businesses to display the QR code for contact tracing.

Cabinet will decide if New Zealand is ready to shift to level 1 on Monday, June 8.