Melbourne’s Plan for Outdoor Dining: Ambitious or Impractical?

Assessing the challenges of going ‘all-in’ on alfresco.

Melbourne has long been recognised as the dining capital of the nation. Sadly, that title may have to be removed temporarily. But hopefully not for long. 

The Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews recently announced a $290 million plan to take Melbourne dining outdoors in an attempt to save the city’s hospitality industry. This plan was immediately met by criticism, with suggestions that it’s unrealistic and unviable for many Melbourne restaurants. However, it should provide hope for some venues looking to recoup some of the loss attached to a tough 2020.  

The plan will see certain streets closed and the space opened up for venues to extend their outdoor dining sections. On top of that, certain locations will be transformed so that businesses can create ‘pop-up’ style restaurants and cafes. $100 million will go towards a Melbourne city recovery fund to help businesses set up for al fresco and outdoor permits are now free. 

In an ideal world, this plot will give the customers the confidence to return and businesses will thrive because of it. Melbourne will begin to recover and have a structure in place to maximise hospitality profits each summer season. But for this ambitious idea to be even remotely successful, there is a variety of challenges that businesses will have to acknowledge and overcome: 

1) Weather 

It’s no secret that the weather in Melbourne is unpredictable. Preparing for this kind of erratic climate is a restaurant manager’s nightmare, and some have suggested the grants being offered won’t cover the necessary equipment needed to keep customers cosy. There aren’t too many places where you need to use both a high-powered fan and gas heaters all in one day, but Melbourne might be one of them. 

2) Finding the space 

With less cars on the road currently, it should be easy to shut-down a few streets over summer. But the fact of the matter is, this solution won’t work for everyone. Melbourne City Council have already outlined their ‘COVID-safe dining precincts’ and there’s some notable areas left off the list. There is the option to create a ‘pop-up’ for those without outdoor dining, however this is a costly operation and hard to pull-off if you’re new to pop-up dining. 

3) How quickly can they turn this around? 

Melbourne is still in a state of lockdown, but there is hope that restrictions will ease throughout November. Considering the struggles that the hospitality industry has had to endure in this state, they’ll need this project ready ASAP. Melburnians have been waiting patiently for some sense of normality, and it’s important that businesses can capitalise on their excitement when it’s safe to go out. 

4) Getting everyone onboard 

To pull off something like this, it’s going to take a massive effort from government, local councils, the customer and foodservice professionals. It will require restaurant managers to think outside the box a little, and perhaps take some risks in trying something they are not used to. It might be a little uncomfortable for some businesses, but this approach needs people on board for it to be effective. Thankfully, the restaurant and catering industry is well known for its resilience and ability to adapt, so if anyone is going to pull it off, it’s them. 

It’s set to be an interesting few months ahead. With most states on the mend, Melbourne is faced with its own bunch of challenges. It’s fair to say that it’s al fresco dining idea is ambitious, but we’re backing the state to pull it off. Hospitality homes some of the cleverest of minds and creative spirits, so there is hope. Who knows, we might be calling it the outdoor dining capital of the country some day. 

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