By Jackson Russell
Mitchell Shire’s pubs, cafes and restaurants last week opened their doors to customers for the first time since March, as easing COVID-19 restrictions start to bring some normality back to the community.
From last Monday morning, hospitality venues were able to open and serve meals for up to 20 patrons per space and serve alcohol with meals.
Like many pubs, the Commercial Hotel in Broadford has opened its doors and can seat up to 60 people at a time between four different spaces.
Publican Bill Neilson said it was good to get the community back into the pub but it presented some challenges.
“It’s a challenge that no one’s faced before. It’s just new but the staff have been good so far, they’re all onto it,” he said.
“You start off with what you’re allowed to do and then you work within that.”
Mr Neilson has taken to carrying a tape measure around with him at all times, to make sure tables are distanced appropriately.
Police have also been through venues that had reopened in the Mitchell Shire to make sure everything is above board.
Mr Neilson said community feedback had been positive so far.
“We did takeaway meals for the last month… and the flow-on effect is inside now,” he said.
“Everyone has been positive, they all understand they have to call first, we’re not accepting walk-ins so we’re always on top of numbers.
“I couldn’t be happier with how the locals have gone about it, to be honest.”
Hogan’s Hotel in Wallan also had to adjust to new guidelines over the past week.
“Going to table service at the hotel is a bit different but everything coming back to us has been positive,” general manager Darren Freestone said.
“From what I’ve seen, there hasn’t been too much negativity. I think people are just happy to be out and about and seeing friends and family.”
It’s been an emotional journey for the owner of the Rose and Oddfellows cafes in Kilmore, Kim Short.
“It’s been very emotional and very satisfying for us to see how happy the customers are to be able to come back in and have something to eat,” she said.
Ms Short said the cafes would spend the next two weeks working out the best system to manage customer numbers.
“We tried to run scheduled bookings, but it’s not really worked,” she said.
“It’s been hard with all the sanitising and staying on top of everything but we’re getting into the swing of it.”
The cafes have now been able to put on additional staff with the extra work it takes to manage customers, take bookings and keep details for contact tracing.
Ms Short said while the majority of customers had been cooperative with all the rules in place, some customers unfortunately took out their frustrations on café staff.
“The girls did cop some not very nice comments and I ended putting a note on Facebook about it,” she said.
“With all the states running different rules, people are getting confused.
“Towards the end, people were getting very anxious about wanting to get out and may have taken it out on the girls.”
However, Ms Short thanked the greater community for their support.
“The community overall and especially our customers have been really supportive,” she said.
“The compassion has been enormous.
“It’s been a massive thing we’ve been through. We’re through the hardest part, but if you reflect back on it, it’s been a really emotional three months.”