Coronavirus: Bar owners ready for 'historic day in hospitality'

Bars will officially reopen on Thursday after being closed for weeks during the lockdown, and it's set to be a "historic day in hospitality", according to one bar owner.  

New Zealand moved to alert level 2 last Thursday, with most businesses being allowed to operate again, including restaurants. Bars, however, were unable to trade until this Thursday unless they primarily served food. The Prime Minister pointed to overseas examples of bars leading to outbreaks as justifying the delayed opening. 

The establishments can now open, but will still have to implement strict health and safety rules. That includes ensuring customers are seated, having bubbles 1 metre apart, having a single server per group, keeping records of customers and workers to allow for contact tracing and only having 100 people in the building (excluding staff). 

No dancing is allowed - except on people's seats - and customers can't go up to the bar. Groups remain restricted to a maximum of ten people. 

The Midnight Gardener Bar owner Luke Dallow told The AM Show they didn't have much of strategy to stop any pashing between people in different bubbles. But the bar will have those other safety measures in place.

"We are just going to tap them on the shoulder and say 'hey, be mindful of COVID19'. Inevitably, they are going to catch up outside or somewhere else, aren't they," he said.

"We are going to have seated areas a metre and a half apart, allocated seats. We are already booked up at one of the other bars I am a shareholder in. There's 100 people booked in already."

He said it was hard because businesses do still want to make some money.

"It's a historic day in hospitality. We have got to make the most of it. We have got to gain some money back and try and keep our customers happy," he said.

"We have got to be mindful. We have got to be adults here. People have to be mindful of where they sit. They've got to self-police themselves too. We don't want another spike, but we do want to create a bit of energy back into the nation and bars and restaurants and retail do that.

"We are going to let people dance on their seats like elephants, well they won't be like elephants, but they will be dancing on their seats. I can't see a problem with that and within your bubble, I am sure you can hold hands and so forth."

Dallow said the wage subsidy has helped his business but asks if money keeps being handed out "where is the drive in your business?"

At the Soul Bar and Bistro, general manager George Dennigan said he is expecting a lot of people to turn up if the sun is shining. 

"I would imagine if the sunshine keeps continuing, there will be a lot of people wanting to get down here and admire the view from the terrace," he told Newshub.

"We want to have our patrons back, but... [we] still can only have 100 people in the building at the one time."

Scott Becker from Fox and Ferret believes customers may be hesitant about heading out.

"I think there will be more than there has been coming out recently, but I also feel that people are still a wee bit nervous about coming out at the moment," he said.

"We have every regulation covered. So the three 'S' [rules], separated, seats, single server. Single server is obviously a bit more tricky in a hospitality environment than I think a lot of people feel. 

"If one staff member is looking after a table and they have two or three tables, but they are also the only person who can run the food and drinks, we have discovered that as things get a wee bit busier, that puts a bit of pressure on that poor staff member. But it's something we have to get used to."

The opening of bars may also have a flow-on effect to the taxi industry. Taxi Federation chief executive John Hart told Newshub that the lockdown hit taxi drivers hard. 

"It is fair to say that it is a significant part of their earnings, so when that went, a significant slice of their earnings went as well," he said.

"The industry has certainly taken a big hit during the lockdown period because there just weren't people out. Most of the time, there was nothing happening. No one wanted anything.

"[Taxi drivers] considered they had a duty to their communities to stay out, so hopefully, people will support them, support their local taxi companies and buy local."

Contact Newshub with your story tips: