Another blow for hospitality

Not a soul: Morwell Bowls Club Operations Manager Simon Wilson inside the venue's empty bistro. photograph zac standish


LOCAL hospitality establishments were thrown into a state of disarray on Saturday morning after Premier Daniel Andrews plunged regional Victoria into its seventh lockdown with just two hours’ notice.

With the weather gods producing two cracking days at the weekend, the Morwell Bowls Club was one of countless venues across the weekend expecting a busy two days – with booked out lunch and dinner services along with a Saturday night function set to bring a real boost to the business.

Operations manager Simon Wilson described how the events unfolded on Saturday morning following the Premier’s announcement.

“So we opened as normal at 9am on Saturday morning and we had both lunch booking sessions pretty well at capacity – we were able to run our first session and then had to call all of our 1:15pm patrons to tell them not to come and we reverted back to take away as soon as the lockdown started,” Mr Wilson said.

“The night before we had a big rush of bookings with people expecting this to happen and then after the announcement we had more people coming by trying to get a table for one last meal.

“This (announcement) was probably the worst one for us, the one before this they announced for 8pm on a Thursday night being one of our busiest nights – but certainly two hours’ notice on a weekend that certainly rubbed a few people the wrong way.”

Faced with the difficult task of informing customers they would have to leave mid-way through their Saturday afternoon lunch, he said most people were understanding of the situation.

“The majority of them were expecting it,” he said.

“But we had some that were shocked by the news and we still have some that are rocking up during the lockdown – today for example we had some come to the use the TAB and he didn’t even know we were in a lockdown and we get phone calls asking for bistro reservations pretty frequently.

“For the most part though I think the people saw this one coming and planned accordingly.”

Casual hospitality staff were also impacted by the announcement, with the sudden shutdown forcing many to end long weekend shifts very early.

Despite the current circumstances, Mr Wilson said the club is still determined to help their staff and offer them somewhat regular hours.

“We have actually done quite well with our staff throughout this whole COVID pandemic as we have retained every one of them – even now we get them to do little jobs so they are still coming into work and staying active,” he said.

“Their hours have come down a little, with Saturday and Sunday especially resulting in less hours for the staff – but they were paid for working an entire regular shift as they were expecting to do before the lockdown was called.”

The expectation of a busy weekend also brought about the issue of a large excess of stock, which he said they have been looking to utilise through a growing take away service.

“We try not to (throw anything away) and utilise as much as we can, obviously there is a bit of left over stock there as we were expecting to do a large amount of sit down meals and now we are back to takeaways,” he said.

“We try to get rid of that extra stock by running specials and things as well, if we have something in bulk we will do those in specials and really promote them to utilise that stock rather than get rid of it.”

Now facing yet another indefinite period of lockdown, Mr Wilson explained what the Morwell Bowls Club have planned to continue operations.

“We are doing a lot of maintenance work and cleaning, of course we have our take away and will be slamming social media to bring more attention to that, we are still running our AFL and NRL footy tipping – it is really just giving us an excuse to keep in touch with our members and to stay proactive in these uncertain times,” he said.