Hospitality feels the heat

Mount Dandenong Hotel owners Mark and Jenny saddened by the sight of an empty bar once again. Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Taylah Eastwell

Businesses across the Dandenong Ranges join the rest of the state in fear as the impact of the latest “circuit breaker” lockdown takes hold, marking the first shutdown endured without any wage subsidies for workers.

For the hospitality industry, which provides employment for a number of students, mothers and casual workers, the impact of the last minute shutdown has been brutal.

Mount Dandenong Hotel owner, Mark, said a “very negative domino effect” flows from the announcement.

“The big industries are allowed to be open, making massive profits, but it’s the small businesses that aren’t essential that aren’t even allowed to stay open and even if opening partially, they won’t do anywhere near the trade,” he said.

But the impact on the hospitality industry is a lot more than a few thousand dollars in lost revenue and some wasted food, with staff losing faith in the industry that has been plagued with uncertainty during the pandemic.

“The staff have lost faith in the hospitality sector. When anything happens we are shut down, and because they are part-time or causal, they are in some cases not entitled to JobKeeper or anything. This time around, we are closed for seven days and they lose seven days pay, because casual workers aren’t entitled to the holidays. It has a devastating effect on them so they’re relying on any savings they’ve got.

“We’re not essential. People have been leaving the industry all-together to find jobs in more secure positions or packing shelves, after the pandemic we have struggled like crazy to get staff back on board,” Mark said.

According to Mark, the Dandenong Ranges had only just started seeing tourists return.

“After we re-opened after the last shutdown it took about three months for consumer confidence to come back. Because we are in a tourist area in the Dandenongs, we were only just starting to see some of the buses come back, so it’s taken all that time to recover,” he said.

With tourists fearful and no government subsidies, the impact of the lockdown doesn’t end when restrictions are lifted.

“In the pandemic there were a lot of things put into place by the government, JobKeeper, JobSeeker, assistance and grants, it was also mandatory rent relief through landlords. Now, because we don’t own the building, we may have to pay rent despite the fact we’ve earnt nothing,” Mark said.

“People might go to their landlords asking for some rent relief because they aren’t earning anything and they may turn around and say, there is nothing legally requiring me to consider that now, so you’ve got to pay full rent. How do you pay your rent when you haven’t earnt a cent?,” he said.

Mark urged the state government to think about the timing of lockdowns and the impact it has on small businesses.

“Food sales are our life, so the timing of shutdowns is critical sometimes. Take Valentines Day, they shut us down for five days on the Friday night with Valentines Day on the Sunday. If they were in this industry they would know we order our products for the weekend on a Thursday for delivery on Friday, there is no delivery on the weekend. I had bought all this stuff and had it delivered Friday and then Friday night we got shut down for five days, and I not only speak for myself but everyone else in the industry,” he said.

“This seven day shut down would have been better from the following Monday instead of the Friday. Shutting us down on Thursday night meant we lost all our weekend trade, Monday and Tuesday we might do 20 people a day but Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday it might be 100, so timing is critical and shutting us down from Monday to Friday would have been much more sensible.

But with experience comes wisdom, with Mark and wife Jenny anticipating a lockdown this time around and opting to not order anything for Friday 28 May.

“We worked the Thursday fully knowing they’d shut us down. We didn’t order anything to get delivered Friday and ran out of certain things Thursday night so I didn’t have to throw out a thousand dollars worth of food,” Mark said.

Mark said one of the hardest things for small businesses affected by the lockdown is the fact the losses often aren’t enough to make an insurance claim due to the excess.

“Losses often aren’t enough to make a claim so it really does bite you.

“It’s a tough gig, and you can be as smart an operator as you like, but you can’t battle the elements of the government shutting you down at the wrong time,” he said.

Mount Dandenong Hotel is open for take-away from the bistro and bottle shop.