“I think it’s unlikely this weekend there will be a big shift,” he said.
However, management of the two Arbory precinct venues – the Arbory Bar and Eatery and the Arbory Afloat pontoon – are resolutely optimistic.
The venues usually have a combined capacity of 1500 people and table service is entirely outdoors.
Marketing director Georgie Larkins said while they would not be “packed to the rafters” as they were at this time last year, hopes are high that COVID-19 restrictions will soon ease enough to allow at least 280 diners at one time at Afloat, and 90 at the Bar and Eatery.
“I’m really optimistic that we will be open by the end of October,” Ms Larkins said. “I think Melburnians are craving to get out and reactivate the social scene of Melbourne.”
New menus have been prepared and the annual reconstruction of Arbory Afloat pontoon has begun, this time to create an “Australian beach house” theme. The precinct’s staff, who have been on JobKeeper, can be recalled.
The venues have not yet ordered food, nor are they taking bookings, but Ms Larkins said there had been more than 1500 inquiries by email alone.
“I guess we will have to be patient,” she said, “but we are excited and optimistic to be working towards reopening, whenever that will be.”
Councils are offering generous programs to help restaurants thrive while being COVID-safe when they reopen.
City of Melbourne CEO Justin Hanney said the council was helping businesses to expand outdoor dining onto footpaths, car parks, streets and laneways through free outdoor dining permits and grants.
Grants of up to $10,000 to help businesses adapt to outdoor dining and meet COVID-safe requirements can be applied for by October 23.
City of Yarra has had 109 applications from businesses seeking concessions such as extending dining into car park spaces, parks, non-arterial roads and lanes.
City of Port Phillip is working with more than 170 businesses to create more footpath trading, and on street closures and conversion of parking bays.
Daniel Clerici, owner of vegan restaurant Sister of Soul in Acland Street, St Kilda, has increased his outdoor seating from 10 seats to 50, as well as 95 diners inside.
He is hoping to reopen by the end of October or start of November.
“Everything’s in a little bit of a limbo, but we’re still remaining positive that there is light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
Carolyn Webb is a reporter for The Age.