By Jackson Russell
Mitchell Shire’s pubs, clubs and cafes reopened their doors for the first time last week, since being forced to close when stage three COVID-19 restrictions were reintroduced on July 8.
The re-opening comes after regional Victoria moved to the third step on the roadmap out of restrictions on Thursday.
Under the third step, hospitality businesses can have up to 50 patrons seated outdoors and 20 seated indoors across a maximum of two spaces.
Hogan’s Hotel in Wallan was one of the shire’s busiest venues, opening for lunch and dinner all weekend.
General manager Darren Freestone said the pub was overwhelmed with the amount of people trying to book a table.
“It was good, people were coming through the doors all day all weekend. We’ve got limited spots inside, we can seat 20 inside, but it was really good,” he said.
“I think that face-to-face is what people have enjoyed and being able to catch up and have a chat with each other. It was definitely a nice start to the trade again really, just seeing people happy.
“It was a sigh of relief for myself but [it was great] just to get that trade through and for the staff to feel as though we’re moving in the right direction.”
Mr Freestone estimated Hogan’s Hotel would have served up to 100 people each dinner service and only slightly less at each lunch service.
“Hopefully things keep going in the right direction and not too long we’ll be able to get customers in the door like we were in stage two,” he said.
Kilmore Trackside was also completely booked, with the venue full for dinner on Friday and Saturday night and for lunch on Sunday, each with two sittings.
Venue manager Emily Milwain said the venue would have served close to 140 people each night.
“The minute we knew we were allowed to open up when we could, the phone started ringing about 8.30 the next morning,” she said.
“When people did turn up to dine in, you could feel this warm buzz and atmosphere in the dining room where people were happy to be out. It was so beautiful. It was a really lovely feeling.”
Ms Milwain said one of the more challenging aspects of reopening was having to turn customers away.
“Keeping bookings to the restriction numbers has also been difficult and making sure the seating is appropriately distanced is something that we’re really cautious of,” she said.
“We’re ensuring people are compliant by wearing their face masks and making sure that we’re socially distancing as patrons and staff… that’s been difficult because you just want to give them all a hug and welcome them back.
“I think people know that we’re really across the restrictions and we take all that stuff seriously. Their safety and the safety of my staff is my highest priority and I think the community knowing that has helped ease their concerns when it comes to choosing our venue to dine out.”