Update Thursday: Horsham Rural City Council has announced it will waive outdoor dining permit fees to allow hospitality businesses to offer COVID safe outdoor dining options.
In a statement, the council said: "Business operators will need to have a COVID Safe Plan in place by the 28 September 2020 and templates are available from the COVID Business Support Team.If a business has a liquor licence, this will need to be extended to accommodate additional outdoor dining."
Wednesday: A Horsham main street cafe owner has renewed hope he will be able to expand his outdoor dining area soon, ahead of restrictions on this activity lifting.
It comes as the region's leaders say no idea is too left-field, as they look to modernise dining in the Wimmera.
As of 11.59pm Wednesday, hospitality businesses can move from takeaway-only back to sit-down meals, predominantly outdoors but with density quotients inside.
Ralph Polo, of Firebrace Street's Farmhouse Deli and Cafe, has closed his kitchen during stage three's return, only offering deli food. He said it would be too costly to reopen it straight away.
"Outside we can only have two tables, because we still have the four square metre rule to follow: we used to have three tables," he said. "And inside we can only have eight people, or four tables, where can fit 30.
"We tried restarting the kitchen with a full menu (after the first lockdown) and it just doesn't work. I'd have to find another chef, then put on extra waitstaff, I'd go broke. Until we can open fully, we will probably stay as we are because it's working for us."
The Andrews government announced on Monday it will provide grants of up to $5,000 to help hospitality businesses pay for outdoor dining expenses like umbrellas and furniture.
It has also made Horsham and Ararat Rural City councils eligible for $500,000 grants to help them improve permit, enforcement and monitoring processes to support expanded outdoor dining in the Third Step. Other rural councils are eligible for half this amount.
Mr Polo wants to add up to 16 more tables, a roof and a window in the adjacent Bradbury Lane.
"The laneway goes on a slope, and they (the council) talked to me a year and a half ago about redoing that laneway but nothing has happened," he said.
"The next-door neighbour has said I can put tables and chairs in front of their shopfront, but I'd have to go buy barriers and furniture and employ more staff: It wouldn't work.
"The opportunity is still there: If they said yes they are going to do it, I can plan around all that."
Mr Polo said he thought the government grants and permit incentives would not make a big difference to Farmhouse's ability to benefit from outdoor dining.
"$5000 can get chewed up in two weeks, and if it doesn't work what do you do?" he said. "It's alright if you've already got the outside area like Cafe Jas, Figtree Caffee and Cheeky Fox. I've got my accountant chasing up whether it's worth it."
On Baillie Street, Horsham Sports and Community Club is preparing to welcome back guests on Thursday: Twenty in its dining room, a few to the footpath, and a few more to its car park.
Manager Glenn Carroll said with the car park, the club would have an extra 30 dining seats outside by the next week.
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"Whether we put it all in the car park we haven't decided: This dropped on us a few hours ago," he said.
"We have engaged with the local council and we are awaiting feedback from them. I don't see there being any issues.
"There are probably some things around security that might be an issue. And if we've got 30 people out in the car park providing food service, there is extra work involved, but we will work through those."
Horsham Mayor Mark Radford said the region's councils were keen to help businesses increase their outdoor dining options - using the government funding - as quickly as possible.
"All the councils are working together with the government departments and the Wimmera Development Association on putting together some assistance," he said.
"The principle is encouraging open-air dining, might be done by setting aside one or two areas in and around Horsham which are set up for that.
"It might be setting up a precinct with food furniture, and perhaps shade structures. I think that's something that is going to happen: It's going to be a change, but I think the community will embrace the change."
Cr Radford said Horsham eateries had told the council's business support team that liquor licensing redline plans and on-street parking were two major regulatory obstacles to them embracing outdoor dining.
"(They have asked) if there is an opportunity to be able to legally set up tables and chairs on areas which are currently used for car parking. Roberts Place for example," he said.
Wimmera Development Association executive officer Chris Sounness is encouraging the region's cafes, restaurants and pubs to think big in envisioning the future of outdoor dining.
"Is Baillie Street or the town hall car park an option for outdoor dining? Can we turn the top end of Firebrace Street into an outdoor dining space?," he said.
"We should be imagining big and then working out what's realistic."
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