Freedom fever is in the air at Sydney’s long-deserted bars, restaurants and cafes with business owners overwhelmed with bookings and excited about reopening.
But nervous owners say they are facing a huge problem which isn’t Covid or fears of a second lockdown – it’s a lack of staff.
Daily Mail Australia visited some of the city’s best known venues along Darling Harbour and Barangaroo before the state’s reopening on Monday, after hitting 70 per cent double dosed this week.
Making sure everything is spick and span for Freedom Day. Only fully vaccinated people will be allowed the new freedoms within hospitality venues from Monday
Michelle Grand-Milkovic of Love Fish restaurant is looking forward to getting back to work after lockdown, but concerned about staff shortages
Freedom Day NSW: What’s opening at 12.01am?
Spotlight stores across NSW, excluding Miranda and Alexandria
Fernwood Fitness – all 20 women’-only gyms across NSW and Greater Sydney
Steelers pub in Wollongong, offering happy hour from 12-3am with $3.90 schooners and $4 wines
City Tatersalls Club in Sydney’s CBD
Easts Bondi Junction in Sydney
Toongabbie Sports Club, western Sydney – capacity of 400 guests
Only fully vaccinated people will be allowed the new freedoms within hospitality venues from Monday.
The word you hear most often from owners and staff is that they are excited to be back in business, but many are experiencing staff shortages and a lack of clarity from the NSW government.
‘(Lockdown has) been a very confronting time as a business owner,’ said Michelle Grand-Milkovic co-owner of Love Fish at Barangaroo on Sydney harbour.
She said they are ‘incredibly excited to be opening, but we’re also facing quite a few challenges’.
Prime among those challenges is finding enough staff to cope with the number of bookings they have. ‘Unfortunately, we’re probably about 10 staff short of where we need to be. It’s an industry-wide huge shortage.
‘It’s a combination of we don’t have the international tourists (to fill positions), a lot of people have left the hospitality industry, and we do have some staff members that don’t want to get vaccinated, so they are not really in a position to be able to come back to work.’
Ms Grand-Milkovic said there has not been enough clarity from the NSW government about the regulations around reopening.
‘There seems to be so much grey area. All we can do at the moment is follow the public health orders which have been released, which do say customers have to be vaccinated in order for restaurants to open at 70 per cent (of eligible people being vaccinated).
‘That’s one of the areas that I think is going to be unnecessarily difficult. The government by now really should have this check in in place. We stated Covid check-ins in June 2020. We’re fully trained on that and fully compliant.
‘What should happen is that when you check in that the tick should appear to say that you’re fully vaccinated.
‘That was what was promised to businesses, and apparently that will not be ready in time. I think they’ve really dropped the ball on that one, I think that should be a prerequisite.’
Sweeping up in all the nooks and crannies to make sure everything is spotless before NSW starts to open up again
Jessie White says reopening after lockdown is like starting all over again. ‘We’re not going to go back to 100 per cent capacity until we see the international borders reopen’
Down the street from Love Fish is Marble BBQ, whose operations manager Jessie White said reopening is ‘just like opening a brand new venue, except you’ve done it before with all the different lockdowns.
As with many other restaurateurs Daily Mail Australia spoke with, he said they have empty positions they need to fill.
Mr White said the lack of tourists due to Covid restrictions is a significant factor in their business planning.
‘Sydney is a very international city. The moment you lose tourism, I think everybody feels it. In a sad way, it is helped by the fact that so many places have had to close down or reduce the hours they’re open.
‘So there are a little bit more customers for everyone (still operating). We’re not going to go back to 100 per cent capacity until we see the international borders reopen.’
Like others running hospitality businesses, Mr White added that the NSW government isn’t providing enough information. ‘I do understand that we’re in a pandemic like we’ve never seen before before and everyone’s trying their best, but the guidance isn’t as clear as maybe everyone would like it.’
Mark is helping businesses prepare to reopen after months of lockdown in Sydney, but says some staff are ‘on the fence’ about getting vaccinated
Tradesman Mark is one of those working to get businesses back to their best in time for Freedom Day.
‘Everything’s just been sitting here for months, so we’re basically just cleaning things up and making sure everything’s presentable,’ he said.
‘I’ve still got some staff that are on the fence about getting the injection. We’re extremely short staffed at the moment.
‘I’ve got two guys sitting at home when I actually need them on the tools. It’s their choice, it’s not my place to say what someone can do with their body. But in an ideal world, they’d be here.’
Polishing the glasses is an important job to help get everything ready in time for the reopening of businesses across NSW
Businesses are hoping tables and chairs that have been empty for months will soon fill up again with satisfied customers
A positive message will help to welcome hungry and thirsty customers back after lockdown eases in NSW on Monday
With time on their hands in recent months, most businesses have tried to remain as productive as they can, including experimenting with new food choices.
‘We have prepared a new menu in lockdown, with Indonesian and Thai food,’ said Kevin, who runs an Asian food restaurant.
‘Sometimes I feel really worried (about reopening), but it’s exciting that we finally can open up again. It will probably take a month to get back to where we were before,’ he said.
‘The last three months have been very boring, you can’t go outside, you can’t do anything. Now we’re coming back to the life.
‘I hope everyone has the same feeling, coming back to life now, back to normal, see people around you and talk to them,’ said Spiced restaurant worker Himanshu.
‘If everyone gets vaccinated and follows the rules, we are almost on track (to get back to normality). If we fully look after ourselves, that’s the main (thing).’
Spiced’s chef is busy preparing for his restaurant to reopen after it was shut for more than three months in lockdown
Staff making sure they are fully stocked with alcohol and food as they prepare for reopening in Sydney on Monday
‘We are being lazy for long enough, so just the kind of getting ready for next week is getting us all excited.
‘We lost some staff because over the last three months, but 80 per cent of our staff are able to come back. I hope by the end of summer (we will be back to normal trade),’ said a bar worker with the very appropriate name of Iso.
Jeremy Fraser, licensee at Bungalow 8 said he and his staff are ‘ecstatic’ at the prospect of reopening.
‘We’ve been preparing for this for months and months, counting down the days and the hours. We’re ready to roll and open and the taps will be flowing on Monday.’
Mr Fraser then used a phrase we’ve all heard a lot of in the past two years. ‘We have a new normal from now on. We’re trying to work out what will happen over the next 12 months, but we’ve got a good roadmap now which gives us a bit of clarity.’
He is heartened by the number of bookings his business is getting. ‘Reservations are the most insane I’ve ever seen. I’ve worked in hospitality for 15 years and I’ve never seen anything like it. For at least two weeks straight, we’re full up most nights of the week.’
Mr Fraser added that, with limited space and massive demand, the next couple of months are going to be very busy, particularly for outdoor, waterfront venues such as his. ‘The line we’re hearing a lot is “I really miss the pub and I’m excited to go back.”‘
Though most businesses are grateful to finally be reopening, some in the hospitality industry are furious they will be restricted to only serving 20 diners at tables when the Sydney lockdowns end on Monday.
Restaurant & Catering Australia chief executive Wes Lambert said the sector had a mixed reaction to new Premier Dominic Perrottet’s announcement about the easing of restrictions.
The tables and chairs are empty now, but will be in hot demand come Monday when NSW opens up after more than three months in lockdown
Mr Perrottet also announced that from Monday, outdoor gatherings of up to 30 people would be allowed, up from 20, while weddings and funerals would be allowed to host 100 people, up from 50.
When 80 per cent of NSW is fully vaccinated, up to 3,000 people will be allowed to attend controlled and ticketed outdoor events, up from 500.
Nightclubs will be allowed to reopen for seated drinking only with no dancing, and masks will no longer be required in office buildings.
NSW’s Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant reportedly did not support Mr Perrottet’s roadmap out of lockdown and warned his plan came with risks. She was noticeably absent at a major Covid press conference on Thursday.