Horsham restaurants, cafes and clubs are seeing customer numbers start to rise after the easing of COVID-19 restrictions lead to a return to seated dining.
A busy Queen's Birthday long-weekend in the wake of new customer guidelines from June 1 allowed for a return to in-house dining and has helped hospitality outlets in the city start to rebuild.
As of June 1, cafes, restaurants and hospitality businesses could resume dine-in services, with up to 20 seated customers per enclosed space. That number is expected to increase to 50 patrons on June 22 and a further increase is expected by mid-July.
But even with the next round of increases, some Horsham businesses will be unable to re-open their doors for table service as it remains financially unviable.
Horsham's Cafe Jas manager, Sharon Hayden, said self-distancing restrictions meant re-opening table service, even with 50 patron limits, "just wouldn't be possible".
The Roberts Ave business can normally seat 70 inside and 30 outside - but the most the venue could cater for under the new restrictions would be 20.
"We'd love the numbers to go back to normal," Ms Hayden said. "With temperature checks, taking contact numbers and the 1.5m self-distancing it won't be worth it for us [to have sit-in customers]. So we've decided not to bother and keep our takeaway service going."
She said the cost of employing extra staff to enforce the restrictions had contributed to the decision not to re-open yet.
"We could have six people per table," she said. "If you have three lots of six people that's it, the restaurant is full. We'd have a lot of disappointed customers."
Ms Hayden said Jobkeeper had allowed them to keep operating and that without it they would have had to shut the doors.
They are working on reduced hours during the week and now close on Sunday, with the morning and lunch-time rushes "pretty good".
Chef and co-owner of restaurant BAA 3400, Hugh Goldson, said it had been fully booked since they re-opened on June 1 - although the customer limit was now 20 people at a time.
"We've encouraged people to stay and enjoy themselves rather than have the meal and rush out," he said. "We're about quality, not quantity. It's a higher-end service."
The Baillie St restaurant, at the Horsham International Hotel, has had to reconfigure its communal dining to meet the rules of one person per 4 sqm, 1.5 metre distance between tables and up to six people a table.
We've encouraged people to stay and enjoy themselves rather than have the meal and rush out- Hugh Goldson
Mr Goldson said they expected to increase their numbers to 30 when the new 50-person maximum per room takes effect, which is the number their room can hold and adhere to social-distancing rules.
The restaurant, which is family-run by Mr Goldson and his wife, Nicole, also provides room-service, which continued during the COVID-19 lockdown. The meals to medical staff and government workers who stayed in the hotel during the two-month lockdown had been provided by Mr Goldson working solo in the kitchen.
Horsham RSL had a "slowish" return to business when they re-opened on June 1, but that is picking up and it is looking to increase numbers in the bistro from 20 to 36 when the new rules come in.
General manager, Tim Nurse, said that regulars were gradually returning and everybody was enjoying catching up.
"We've missed them and they've missed us," he said.
The long-weekend brought an influx of visitors to the multi-roomed McLachlan St venue, which would normally have 150 but is currently limited to 77 given the one person per 4sqm COVID-19 restrictions.
Mr Nurse said they had introduced staggered meal-time sittings at both lunch and dinner, which had allowed numbers served to be increased if necessary.
The increase to 50 people in a room would mean that the bistro's numbers could increase from 20 to 36 patrons.
Mr Nurse said that given COVID-19 was still "floating around" the restrictions should stay in place.
The Horsham RSL's members were often older and they had been more cautious about returning due to the pandemic, but they were now coming back, Mr Nurse said.
"They are coming in and feeling more comfortable in the environment," he said.
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