Australia Cafés, restaurants, bars bounce back from COVID-19, but lockdown changed the way we dine
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Sydney's hospitality sector has bounced back from the COVID-19 crisis, with revenue close to pre-pandemic levels for many cafes, bars and restaurants despite ongoing outbreaks, border closures and employees working from home.
But eating habits have changed, with venues busier mid-week, while the NSW government's Dine and Discover voucher program has encouraged some diners to splurge on more food.
Data from Lightspeed, which provides financial software to more than 10,000 hospitality venues, showed revenue earned by Sydney bars last month was up 398 per cent compared to May 2020.
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Revenue at restaurants was up 130 per cent, while cafes earned 59 per cent more in May compared to 12 months ago.
Overall, Sydney's hospitality trade has doubled since May 2020, with trade in regional NSW up 53 per cent.
Lightspeed marketing director Simon Le Grand said bars had experienced greater growth than cafes and restaurants because they had been hit harder by pandemic restrictions, with many forced to close last year.
"Generally, bars found it harder to adapt to takeaway and delivery channels due to the service of alcohol," he said.
In contrast, cafes and restaurants suffered smaller dips in revenue as they were quicker to offer takeaway and delivery.
Restaurant and Catering Association chief executive Wes Lambert said Sydney's hospitality industry was on average trading at or near pre-COVID levels.
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Some venues based in CBD office buildings and caterers remained down, while suburban cafes and restaurants had recovered thanks to people working from home.
"Areas such as The Rocks remain down due to their reliance on international tourists and cruise passengers," he said.
Mr Lambert also said people were dining out up to five times a week - more than before the pandemic.
Hospitality revenue over the past 12 months was up 78 per cent in NSW - less than Victoria (114 per cent) and South Australia (134 per cent), but more than Queensland (44 per cent) and Western Australia (64 per cent).
Trevor Simmons, co-founder of Industry Beans, said the CBD cafe's revenue was up 60 per cent compared to last May when the first lockdown restricted trade to takeaway only.
Mr Simmons said the pandemic had depressed trade by deterring office workers and shoppers from visiting the CBD until March this year.
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"The positive is that we are now 85 to 90 per cent of pre-COVID trading and hoping to see that increase over the coming months," he said.
Mr Simmons, who also operates cafes in Brisbane and Melbourne, said the Sydney venue had been the quickest to recover in the past six months thanks to lower case numbers and less restrictions.
An oversupply of cafes in Sydney and Melbourne before the pandemic had eased with the closure of some businesses, enabling venues still operating to attract more customers, he said.
Mr Le Grand said the impact of COVID differed between states: "Brisbane was mainly back on track in early winter of last year, while Sydney took until the start of summer."
Japanese restaurant ILKO Mazesoba in Haymarket was hit hard early in the pandemic by the loss of students, tourists and people shunning the Chinatown area, said owner Michelle Widjaja.
However, she said trade was now better than before the pandemic, with takeaway and delivery still popular.
Ms Widjaja said the pandemic had accelerated the adoption of technology such as QR codes, table-ordering systems and loyalty programs.
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"We have found that the majority of people choose to work from home on Mondays and Fridays so we found that the middle of the week is now our busiest weekdays," she said.
Tom Stott, head chef at Employees Only, said the number of guests at the restaurant and bar in Sydney's CBD was close to pre-pandemic levels following a three-month closure last year.
"I am starting to see a lot of life returning to the city, which almost resembles a time pre-COVID," he said.
The state government's Dine and Discover scheme, which has been, offers adults four $25 vouchers to spend on dining and entertainment.
More than 5 million vouchers have been used in cafes and restaurants, including 450,000 in the City of Sydney.
Ms Widjaja said the dining vouchers encouraged customers to order more and choose premium items from the menu: "It has also encouraged people to go out and maybe try something they wouldn't normally do."
The revenue data suggests it takes about one month for drinkers and diners to come back after a lockdown.
Mr Le Grand said the northern beaches lockdown last year not only affected Christmas revenue for venues, "but the general uncertainty affected surrounding suburbs as well".
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