Australia calls last drinks as coronavirus hits hospitality business

  • March 23, 2020

A sign in front of Fortune of War pub reads ‘so long but not farewell’ before it shut down due to coronavirus concerns, in Sydney, Australia, March 23, 2020. REUTERS/James Redmayne

As a noon deadline struck on Monday for Australian pubs, restaurants and other gathering-places to close, the last three guests in Badde Manors café, in the Sydney dining hub of Glebe, hurriedly downed their coffees and left.

Coronavirus infections in Australia passed 1,600 as the curbs took effect in pubs, clubs, gyms, indoor sporting venues, cinemas and casinos. Cafes and restaurants may only offer takeaways or home delivery.

“You lose a lot,” said Martin Sheivan, the owner of Badde Manors, which has run for 40 years at a site near two universities.

“Electricity, bills, everything, it doesn’t make sense,” added Sheivan, who said he would have to close, because he could not support 10 staff on takeaway coffee orders alone.

A package of support the government has put together for businesses will not help if the shutdown measures last for six months, as authorities expect, he said.

At Thievery, a restaurant nearby, the owners hunched over laptops doing their sums, only to conclude that they didn’t add up.

“I have to tell a lot more staff they have no jobs,” said Julian Cincotta, a co-owner of two more restaurants in Sydney employing 60 staff. “I have rung some this morning. I have been telling them all what they need to survive.”

With delivery apps taking a cut of 35% on orders, just takeaways were not enough to keep the business profitable, he added.

Cincotta, who saw the news of the shutdown at 10 p.m. on Sunday, said he would probably seek “the dole”, adding that everyone in the hospitality industry was in the same boat and trying to get relief from government.

“Hospitality is done. It is closed. It is over.”

“A lot of people are seeing things, but not understanding. They say businesses get money, but it’s not. We get it in the form of a tax break – if you don’t have cashflow now, I can’t do anything.”

In the historic Rocks precinct, Samo Vojsk was sitting over a last drink in Sydney’s oldest pub, the Fortune of War, his local for 39 years.

“I’m devastated, as are all the other regulars,” Vojsk said, adding that news of the pub’s shutdown had been sad and a bit of a shock. “It’s a traditional thing for Aussies to have a quiet drink after work.”