What Now? Lockdown Advice for Melbourne Restaurants from Two Industry Heavyweights

Originally published on Zomato.

“$1,000 feels like $100,000 at the moment,” says owner of Maha Restaurants Shane Delia. It’s a feeling many cafes, restaurants and bars are experiencing – regardless of their size.

He and Sven Almenning of The Speakeasy Group (which runs Mjølner, Eau De Vie and Boilermaker House) have some advice for hospitality professionals trying to secure their businesses and give them the best chance of coming out on the other side of lockdown.

The first step is simple, reach out to people in the industry

“There’s a lot of free advice out there right now,” says Almenning. “I’d suggest that people drop the ego and reach out for help if you need it. That is strength.”

Though the Melbourne hospitality scene is competitive, with some 17,000 restaurants, a beautiful camaraderie exists. Especially in times of crisis. Business owners are sharing different learnings, spanning from HR advice, rental advice, government support information and more.

The more factual information that can be shared on an array of topics, the better equipped businesses will be in getting through these challenging times.

Ensure you’re getting proper accounting advice

“It’s important to have people around you who will give you real, constructive advice,” Delia chimes in.

“Of course there are heaps of government incentives out there for businesses. But I’d say make sure you’re getting the right advice from your accountants about what is possible.”

After heavy consultation with his accountants and broader team, Delia is launching a range of heat-up meals at home, based on Maha’s menu and its distinctive Middle Eastern flavour profile.

Be conscious of delivery platforms

“I would be conscious of hopping onto delivery platforms for the first time right now. Make sure you do a proper cash flow analysis. If you misinterpret the incentives, you can dig yourself a big hole,” advises Almenning.

Some businesses that hop on the delivery bandwagon report they don’t make any profit at all, following high commission rates. “Don’t make any decisions unless you have all the information you need.”

Almenning says businesses like Mjølner simply can’t be replicated in a delivery format. The venue encompasses a whole Viking bar experience, from the knives to the interior design. Almenning’s focus is the longevity of his brand.

Maintain solid relationships with staff and suppliers

“Looking after your staff is imperative. And be transparent with your suppliers now. You’re going to need those people when you get out of this,” says Delia.

“Now is also the time for true leadership. You need an engaged workforce that believes in you. Amongst your team, you need to be the light.”

Delia also warns people against thinking that when businesses do reopen, it’ll all go back to normal. “Your restaurant may have the same walls, the same people, the same brand when you go back, but you’ll be starting again like it was day one.”

Almenning echoes consciously looking out for your workforce’s wellbeing. “If you don’t have a mental health resource available to your staff, I would get on this now,” he adds.

Keep an eye on the mental wellbeing of others – and yourself

“If you have the capacity right now to listen to others, reach out to them. It’s often the strongest people that you don’t think are struggling that need to chat,” says Almenning.

Hospitality business owners may want to consider engaging consulting psychologists to support themselves and staff members during testing times.

To conclude

Enduring lockdown measures as a restaurant requires a balance of short and longterm thinking. If business owners can try and restriction-proof their venues as much as possible – in preparation of possible future outbreaks – persisting will become a little more manageable.

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