With restrictions for hospitality businesses expected to be slightly eased in regional Victoria this week, the state government has announced a multi-million dollar package to help set up more outdoor dining.
Regional cities will be eligible for $500,000 in grants to help with infrastructure and to waive fees and charges so cafes, restaurants, and pubs can reopen - the City of Ballarat has already announced outdoor dining permit fees will be waived to January 2022, and any business that has already paid for one this year will be refunded.
Council has also offered to provide the required public liability cover for this activity on a temporary basis, while other fees, including liquor licencing, have been deferred by the state government.
Businesses can apply for $5000 infrastructure grants to buy seats, umbrellas, and other furniture they'll need, as well as training for staff, to reopen on footpaths and potentially closed-off on-street car parks.
During Monday morning's media conference, Premier Daniel Andrews said there would be more information on reopening hospitality "very soon" - questions remain over indoor dining, density limits, and what infrastructure will be required, such as perspex screens.
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Several suggestions for rebooting Ballarat's dining scene have been discussed - in a media statement, council said it is continuing to consult with the Ballarat business community "to ensure businesses throughout the municipality are ready to start or expand their outdoor dining offer as soon as Premier Daniel Andrews gives the green light".
While outdoor dining is not uncommon in Ballarat, the cruel winter usually encourages punters to head indoors.
The Forge Pizzeria's Tim Matthews said that will change as summer approaches.
"It'll become more important, and desirable from the customer's point of view, to sit outside and have that fresh air and be COVID-safe," he said.
"We generally don't book our outdoor areas, that'll be a change we think we'd need to do, for contact tracing, so we'd need to come up with a solution for that."
While Armstrong Street's wide footpaths are suited for more outdoor dining, there will need to be negotiations with neighbours so businesses can help each other out, particularly businesses that haven't done al fresco before.
"It's worth understanding how we can utilise the spaces that aren't in use, for example - there's other places underneath verandahs that aren't being used, so it'll be interesting to see how local government engages with them to facilitate a positive conversation with neighbours about having a positive experience," Mr Matthews said.
"A lot of businesses, not all, have this in the pipeline, they already have the outdoor permit - the question will be are they ready? And those that don't, what's their pathway?"
He cautioned any decisions on how to change current streetscapes should be made on a precinct-by-precinct basis.
"There could be different hour restrictions and what that might mean for parking - it has to be addressed individually, what applies for DTC isn't going to apply for Armstrong Street," he said.
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He also reiterated council's commitment to keep industry consultation at the forefront.
"The government's moving quickly with regulation, we need to keep that conversation frequent, because some of those issues are changing (quickly)," he said.
"I think a lot of consumers, and business owners, are nervous, and we want to get back to operating as normal, but as safe as we can."
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