Pubs prepare for coronavirus recovery

Bar manager Ben Wainwright at the Coogee Pavillion Hotel in Sydney. Picture: Nikki Short
Bar manager Ben Wainwright at the Coogee Pavillion Hotel in Sydney. Picture: Nikki Short

As they move towards reopening, publicans are at odds over how much COVID-19 has actually cost them in lost revenue.

The eight-week enforced closure of Arthur Laundy’s 70-strong pub portfolio across NSW and Queensland ripped 20 per cent from his annual turnover. Meanwhile, Melbourne publican Chris Morris, who owns 13 pubs in Victoria, Western Australia, NSW and Queensland, estimates the virus cost him 25% of his $75 million annual pub revenue, or some $18.75 million, given his pubs have been shut for three months.

Sydney publican and restaurateur Justin Hemmes, chief executive of Merivale, told The Australian his losses were closer to 99% of his turnover over the past eight weeks.

But in NSW at least, Laundy and Hemmes are intent on reopening their pubs from Monday, given the NSW government’s easing of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, allowing 50 patrons at a time. For Merivale, it means it can employ an extra 1000 staff from next week.

“While we are still a little while away from operating all our venues at full capacity, the increase to 50 customers is a huge leap forward and one that will result in an exponential increase in employment,” Hemmes says.

Merivale’s Coogee Pavilion, Bar Totti’s, Jimmy’s Falafel, Mr Wong, and The Paddington are open this weekend.

From Monday, Merivale will open more of its pubs including Angel Hotel, Establishment Main Bar, The Newport (Arms Bar only), The Royal Bondi, Vic on the Park and Wynyard Hotel. Felix will follow on Tuesday and by Wednesday pubs including Fred’s, Queen Chow Enmore and The Beresford will be reopen.

Hemmes says the COVID-19 lockdown experience reminds him of the hard times endured during the GFC more than a decade ago. “We went through very challenging times and people looked to hospitality as their release and form of enjoyment and relief. This (COVID-19) has shown us how important social connectivity is in our lives.”

But Hemmes says reopening his hotels and restaurants is not as “simple as a flick of a switch”. “It’s a mammoth exercise to get the staff back. It’s a big deal. We have been planning this for a couple of weeks and obviously are incredibly excited about the state government’s announcement of an increase in numbers at venues,” Hemmes told The Australian.

“We have to make this work and prove people can come to our venues and maintain a level of safety. Once we do that over the next four weeks it allows the government to ease up on the restrictions. These are unprecedented times and are changing our behaviours. We are a lot more grateful. I have just briefed staff and the level of enthusiasm and support I have never seen anything like it before. We are entering a pretty special time.”

Laundy, meanwhile, says he tried not to think about the financial losses Laundy Hotels incurred because of COVID-19.

“I will reopen all my hotels from Monday,” says Laundy.

As for Morris, he is waiting for more government-enforced restrictions to lift across the four states where he owns pubs and says he will reopen his hotels on a “pub-by-pub” basis.

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