Inside Sid at the French cafe. Photo: Josh Griggs

How Auckland restaurants are adapting to the coronavirus pandemic

How are the restaurants in our city coping with the spread of Covid-19? Jean Teng spoke to a handful of key players in Auckland's hospitality scene to see what's hitting them hardest, and how they're adapting.

Restaurant owners in Auckland are experiencing an unprecedented downturn with the impact of Covid-19. The Restaurant Association estimates a nationwide loss of $10 million a week throughout the hospitality industry, and believes this will increase further shortly. At this stage, they are aware of at least 10 businesses in New Zealand which have permanently closed, with 178 currently considering their options. 

Business is going down, and it’s likely to get worse from here.

The Government’s $12.1 billion coronavirus financial package, announced this afternoon, includes relief for hospitality businesses, with almost half allocated to wage subsidies for any business which has suffered or is projected to suffer a 30% decline in revenue compared to any months between January and June in 2019. This includes $585.50 a week available for full-time workers, and a sick-leave scheme which covers workers who have already used their mandatory sick leave hours.

“We think this is a good start by the government, and we hope that they will be willing to review this as time goes on,” Marisa Bidois, CEO of the Restaurant Association, says. “It will go a long way to assisting those that have been hit in the early stages.”

READ MORE: How to support local hospitality businesses in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic

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Grant Robertson (right) arrives to announce the Government's Covid-19 financial response package. Photo: Getty

How are restaurant owners feeling?

Cafe-owner David Huang has noticed a 20% downturn in his businesses on the North Shore and is just starting to feel the financial impact, but believes it must be worse for those closer to the city centre, with many office workers starting to work from home. He’s seen his coffee wholesale business hit first, due to other cafes cutting back on purchasing coffee beans. “We’ll be OK for now, but I don’t know how long it’s going to last.” Already, he’s sent out internal announcements to staff regarding the process of revising the roster and cutting back on hours. Being located in a suburban area and catching overflow from social gatherings, Huang is emphatic about their chances. “As soon as they close schools, it’ll be the end of our business.”

Michael Dearth, owner of Top 50 restaurants The Grove and Baduzzi, is starting to see cancellations roll in, particularly for The Grove, which is a tourist favourite. Dearth anticipates a downturn for Baduzzi, which caters largely to business people and corporate meetings. After seeing similar scenes in cities overseas, he’s not surprised that it’s happening to Auckland.

“Social distancing isn’t good for business,” he says. In the same breath, he understands the real health and safety concern and is matter-of-fact that things happen unexpectedly, and that’s part of being a business owner. “You just want to be smart about how you react. I have children now, 70 employees. I don’t have the luxury to indulge in panicking.”

Baduzzi. Photo: Rebekah Robinson

How are restaurants adapting?

The Grove, like many other restaurants in Auckland, will utilise their space and create more distance between tables. “We will do what we always do, but better.” That means being more attentive to customers’ needs, utilising the availability of their private room, and being pedantic about hygiene. They will also soon be rolling out alternative dining options, including at-home dining experiences for small parties and delivery from a selection of Baduzzi’s offerings, the details of which will be announced at a later stage. There is no talk of closing the doors yet.

It’s a similar story at Sid and Chand Sahrawat’s three restaurants, Sid at the French Cafe, Sidart and Cassia. They will be removing seating capacity and have hand sanitisers beside EFTPOS machines for guests. They too acknowledge the risk and respect the need for social distancing. “In such uncertain times, we support the decisions of those customers who choose not to dine out,” the Sahrawats say, who are also extending their dining vouchers and relaxing their cancellation policies.

Both Dearth and the Sahrawats still want to reiterate that, for those who can, eating locally and supporting owner-operators will be much needed for getting New Zealand businesses through these times.

Williams is going to start offering takeaway options. Photo: Rebekah Robinson
The Restaurant Association supports this, saying they’re still encouraging people to support their local dining establishments whilst also being mindful of social distancing. “Contact your favourite local establishments to see what they are able to offer those in self-isolation or those that are concerned about being in public spaces,” they say.

In New York, dining-in at restaurants has been banned – but takeaway is permitted. In preparation for that possibility, some restaurants in Auckland, like Williams Eatery, will be implementing contactless takeaway and delivery systems to adapt to the current situation. Auckland restaurant Bar Celeste will be developing a takeout offering to be enjoyed at home, while Peaches Hot Chicken in Panmure are encouraging diners to take-out while they revise their dine-in service. Delivery services like Uber have encouraged contactless delivery through leaving a note for your driver.

Keep an eye on Metro to stay tuned about which restaurants are changing their dining options in the coming days.

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