Smarter Not Harder

Has the government talked to hospitality owners since the COVID-19 pandemic hit our shores? It doesn’t seem as though they have, for surely if they had talked to the owner of a small ‘hole-in-the-wall' café they might have realised how difficult the Alert Level 2 distancing rules were for most establishments. Or had they talked to a bar owner they may have realised how ridiculous it was to expect seated table service.

You may be wondering, why bother bringing this up now? New Zealand is in Alert Level 1, we are free to frolic in public spaces, but for how long? If community transmission of coronavirus does become an issue for us, we may see ourselves heading back indoors. Or at the very least social distancing rules might be reinforced, as they have had to do in areas of the United States where new cases have soared.

Touch wood we never have to go back to Alert Level 4 or 3, but even Alert Level 2 would still be a struggle for many Kiwi hospo businesses. We need to figure out a better strategy now, learn from our mistakes and make sure that the great Kiwi hospitality industry is protected against further attack.

Let’s take a look at Liverpool, England. Okay, so the UK government’s initial response to the pandemic was one of the worst, but they are beginning to turn that around. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed that restaurants, pubs, and hotels will be able to open from the beginning of July.

A pilot scheme to help restaurants provide outdoor eating and drinking has been launched as part of the Liverpool Without Walls project to re-imagine the city under social distancing rules. The project, which is being coordinated by Liverpool City Council, Liverpool BID Company, and Liverpool Chamber of Commerce includes road closures, pop-up parks, a business grant scheme, and free trading permits for businesses.

The scheme looks brilliant – a way for independent restaurants in the area to apply for grant money to buy outdoor furniture so they can expand their capacity while keeping socially distant. The scheme will also block off roads to extend the outdoor areas of local bars and eateries.

Granted, it is summer in the northern hemisphere so outdoor dining is a no brainer. However, I’m sure plenty of New Zealand restaurant, bar, and café owners would have raised their hands for a scheme to help with outdoor dining, regardless of it being winter. Outdoor heating and covers could have been bought, or spaces looked at to convert into outdoor eating areas.

The best thing about the Liverpool scheme is its insight into what hospitality retailers needed in the moment. It doesn’t feel as though our government, on the national or local level, put this kind of thought into helping one of New Zealand’s most important sectors. Where were the local councils offering help with licenses so that businesses could pivot their operations into something that could work well under Alert Level 2 and continue into Alert Level 1?

Of course, England has a far greater population, its city councils have more funding to allocate and so a side by side comparison isn’t exactly fair. It’s the idea at the core of the Liverpool scheme that is impressive, and it’s disappointing that no one thought of better ways to help our hospo whanau.

It isn’t too late. Now is the time to stop patting ourselves on the back for staying in our bubbles and start coming up with truly innovative ideas to keep Kiwi hospitality alive and kicking.