City Hub

Coronavirus catering: from dine-in to take-away

Tan Doan, owner of Revolver Cafe in Annandale, takes coffee and food orders through a window. Photo: Alexi Demetriadi

By ALEXI DEMETRIADI

Australia’s bars and restaurants have shut their doors for dine-in service to halt the spread of COVID-19 and business plans across the country were simultaneously ripped apart over night. One saving grace for many of Sydney’s food and drink spots is that take-away has remained an option. Hundreds of venues had to turn their business model on its head and trial a take-away service to remain operating during the coronavirus crisis enveloping the city.

From schooners to growlers
Most bars are geared up to serving schooner-upon-schooner in one of the iconic Headmaster glasses, with patrons enjoying draught beer amid the atmosphere of their local. On Sunday 22 March, that changed. Sydney’s pubs were left with a problem that most didn’t ever expect to have to solve – how do you convert a sit-in business model to take-away in a matter of hours?

With the prospect of kegs going off and lines clogging up due to the lack of pouring, pubs across Sydney have had to think outside the box.

Forest Lodge Hotel, nestled away near Paramatta Road, has been run by Irene Sen and her husband Matthew for eight years. The restrictions that came into effect on Monday meant that the Sens had to think creatively to keep the pub running. “The last few days have been a total shock – we didn’t expect it to all happen so quickly,” Sen told City Hub. “We had to find the fighting spirit, and we have.”

The Lodge utilised this spirit and turned from local pub to Lodge Hill’s newest takeaway and 35% off food and wine meant that they were able to keep the business’s heart beating.

“We realised that there wasn’t a great number of food places around the area, so it’s nice to still be able to offer food to the locals,” explained Sen. “It’s a real community around here.”

The pub is also trying to keep the beer flowing, offering discount prices of its tap selection with ‘growlers’ – jugs used to takeaway tap beer. “It was in the back of our minds for a while,” Sen remarked. “It was our cellarman’s idea and it’s been really popular.”

Keeping it running
Coffee remains relatively simple to transfer to ‘takeaway only’. But for those cafés where coffee is just one of the products on offer, creativity has been required to ensure that a stoked kitchen does not go to waste.

“I only took over two months ago, on the first birthday of my daughter,” Tan Doan, owner of Revolver Café in Annandale, told City Hub. “I had some expectation that this might happen, but not this soon.” Revolver sits within a restored 1980s corner shop and it has adapted to the changing nature of the crisis. “At first I was shattered, there were tears in my eyes,” Doan said upon hearing of the restrictions. “Even now I’m still emotional talking about it.”

Doan explained that Revolver normally offers takeaway, which meant that the café was prepared to make the transition. “For me it is now all about survival and keeping the business alive,” he said. “We have had to really fight and think outside the box, doing whatever it takes.” A new menu was designed by the chefs, to ensure no food went to waste. “We’ve had to play it by ear,” said Doan. “We’ve had to be creative.”

Life after coronavirus
To make it easier for Sydneysiders to find places running a takeaway service, Pauline Lockie, independent councillor for the Damun and Stanmore ward of the Inner West Council, put all the information into one place. The councillor told City Hub that the idea came from a similar initiative from NSW MP, Alex Greenwich.

“I saw a lot of social media posts by places that were now doing takeaway service,” said Lockie. “This was amazing, but it can be really hard to go back and find that post, and find which restaurant or café was offering takeaway.”

Lockie set about putting a list together so people could quickly find those places offering food (see link below). “Our part of the Inner West is really well known for its food and drink scene,” she said. “It was an important and relatively easy thing to do, to compile all these different places onto one accessible list.”

The current virus-crisis is an unprecedented time for both consumers and business, with people’s lives changing overnight and disposable income now scarce. “With the Inner West particularly, we don’t choose to live here because the rent is high and we’re under the flightpath,” said Lockie. “We choose to live here because there is a real sense of vibrancy, character and community.”

If you are able to, buying the odd coffee, bacon roll or growler from your local may go a long way in ensuring the retention of that character and community after this is all over.

Councillor Pauline Lockie’s list of inner-west pubs and cafés still trading:
https://www.paulinelockie.com.au/covid19_support_local_restaurants_pubs_cafes

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