After months of uncertainty and anxiety, cafes, pubs and restaurants around Ballarat have re-opened their doors for sit-down customers.
With the ease of COVID-19 restrictions which were rolled out on Monday morning, venues across the state were finally able to welcome patrons to sit down and enjoy a meal, as long as they followed strict rules.
Under the new restrictions, venues had to follow the following rules in order to re-open their dine-in service.
20 patrons per enclosed space, tables are spaced 1.5 metres apart, to ensure physical distancing, one person per four square metres as well as venues requesting contact details, first name and phone number, of every customer to assist in rapid contact tracing.
Sturt Street looked slightly more normal in the morning as customers filtered in and out of cafes to enjoy Ballarat's selection of eateries.
Owner of Higher Society, a Sturt Street cafe which celebrated its first birthday on Monday, Lachlain Ramsay said he and his staff were thrilled to see customers sitting down inside the cafe.
"It's just brilliant," he said.
"We've been booked back-to-back all day today, which has been awesome. We're just turning the tables over and we can't get enough of this right now."
The cafe had been open throughout the pandemic, however only in a takeaway capacity.
Mr Ramsay said he was over the moon to be able to deliver a more complete experience for his patrons on Monday morning.
"We've made the absolute most of what we could do during isolation. We continued to operate as a takeaway business but now we have the opportunity to give people the full Higher Society experience.
"While I don't see today as a massive turning point for us, it's very exciting to be able to get back to doing what we love."
With patrons now back in his cafe, Mr Ramsay said he is able to see things returning back to normal.
"I think it's just a return to normal life for people," he added.
We've all struggled through our own challenges during isolation, so to have something that can feel like a return to normal for people is very important.Higher Society owner Lachlain Ramsay.
"We're allowing people to sit down and enjoy something that they used to which feels great."
These sentiments were echoed by Tim Kearney, owner of the Golden City Hotel.
"It's the first step in the right direction for us but we've still got a long way to go," he said.
"In order for us to get back to full capacity, there's going to be a bit of a wait, but today has given us hope that we're headed in the right direction.
"We want people to have the confidence to come out because venues all over Ballarat have been working hard to create safe environments for customers.
"We want to get things back to normal."
Like Higher Society, the hotel had been operating in a takeaway capacity for the past few months. Mr Kearney said it felt amazing to have customers back sitting down, enjoying meals like normal.
"It's been fantastic," he said.
"It's such a good feeling to get the venue back open and to be able to serve meals on a plate and coffees in a cup. This is what we've been waiting for for a couple of months.
"Our customers have been really supportive... they've missed coming in sitting down. Everyone has been responding well to the restrictions that are in place.
"For us there's been a big to-do list in creating a safe environment but we've managed well."
Looking at the community response their cafes received, both Mr Kearney and Mr Ramsay raised the public for their support and understating during this period and their re-opening.
"The support has been overwhelming... The Ballarat community has been so supportive throughout the whole pandemic," Mr Kearney said.
"The fact that people were coming out today just shows that Ballarat just has each other's backs."
"Everyone has been so supportive as well as super understanding in terms of the policies and procedures we need to operate under," Mr Ramsay added.
Whether Monday proves to be an actual positive turning point remains to be seen, however venues will remain under these restrictions until June 21, at which point the maximum capacity will increase to 50 patrons.
A further increase of up to 100 patrons per enclosed space is planned for the second half of July. Changes to these dates will be subject to the advice of the Chief Health Officer.
While cafes and restaurants are able to welcome customers back for meals, patrons looking for just a beverage remain prohibited. Alcohol can however be served alongside a meal.
Under direction for the Department of Health and Human Safety, a meal must be a genuine meal - not a snack. These restrictions also apply for RSL's, bowls clubs, wineries and cellar doors.
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