By ALLISON HORE
Social distancing in some of Sydney’s small inner-city cafes, restaurants and bars is almost impossible, that is, unless the seats take to the street.
Last year, to allow inner-city hospitality businesses to remain open, while facilitating social distancing, the City of Sydney launched an outdoor dining scheme which saw al fresco permit fees scrapped and a fast-tracked application process. Lord Mayor Clover Moore said this was one of the council’s first responses to the pandemic.
Now, following the success of the city’s “al fresco revolution”, the City of Sydney has announced they will be injecting an additional $5.7 million into the scheme and waiving permit fees until June 2022.
“People have really embraced it, with participating businesses telling us they’ve taken on extra staff and seen increased patronage – a crucial aid to staying afloat in these difficult times,” said Mayor Moore.
“Covid is not over, and neither is our economic recovery. So to support business and keep people healthy, outdoor dining will be free at least until the end of the financial year.”
The fast-tracked approval process for al fresco seating was approved in December last year. Since then, 204 al fresco dining permits have already been granted across the inner city. 69 percent of permits were granted for the footway and 31 percent the roadway.
And so far the businesses who’ve gotten on board are seeing considerable benefits from the changes.
According to a survey by the council, 90 percent of businesses participating in the alfresco scheme reported the new outdoor dining options were beneficial, or even crucial, to their business. Almost half of the businesses, 45 percent, say they have had to bring on an additional two staff after opening for outdoor dining.
Outdoor dining a “game changer”
NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet backed the City’s scheme, saying it has “worked in tandem with the rollout of the Dine & Discover voucher program” to encourage patrons back to inner-city venues.
“The city is bouncing back from its forced hibernation and we’re making it easier for more businesses to go Al Fresco, which will give our economy another major boost,” he said.
The changes to al fresco dining policies also made it easier for businesses to set up tables and chairs in laneways, footpaths and parking bays. Where roadside parking spaces are transformed into dining areas, colourful concrete barriers separate diners from traffic.
“This initiative means venues can apply to transform car parking space into outdoor dining and some venues may request more footpath space to attract customers,” said Minister for Finance and Small Business Damien Tudehope.
“It is about greater certainty and opening up more capacity for venues so they can continue to host guests and serve top notch food and drinks.”
One business which has benefitted from the scheme is the Dolphin Hotel on Crown street. Paul Burnicle, the hotel’s general manager, called the decision to remove red tape from outdoor dining areas a “game changer” for the hospitality industry.
“It has really added another element to our venue and Crown Street as a whole. It’s great to see Sydney coming back to life after the year we’ve all endured,” he said.