Could an evolution of outdoor dining in Ballarat be the next progression for the city's hospitality scene beyond the coronavirus pandemic?
Creative business owners and Ballarat's future-thinking leaders say the possibilities created by a new focus on outdoor dining are exciting for the long-term.
Owners of Armstrong Street restaurants Pancho and Meigas Jose Fernandez and Simone Baur-Schmid are working to bring not just tables and chairs, but the entire experience of their restaurants, outdoors.
Mr Fernandez said more people, movement and activity in Ballarat's streets would be a positive change, looking beyond pandemic restrictions.
"It does excite us. It is good to change.... I think it is good for Ballarat," he said.
Pancho will be reopening with limited indoor and outdoor dining from Friday after operating with a takeaway only model during stage three restrictions.
Let's make it part of the future rather than saying it is just the next few weeks.Michael Poulton, Committee for Ballarat
Ms Baur-Schmid said she was in the process of talking to council about what change was possible to extend their outdoor dining space, with hopes to move into the car park in front of the restaurant.
She said she was expecting to hear from council in the next few days with an answer on where they could extend their footprint.
HAVE YOUR SAY AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS STORY
Ms Baur-Schmid said their neighbours at Meigas had been supportive about expanding their outdoor seating either side of the restaurant.
She said ideal expansion would be to close off Armstrong Street to vehicle traffic, if that could work for all types of businesses on the street.
"It would add another atmosphere to the street as well," Ms Baur Schmid said.
"We will bring the restaurant inside to outside, not only the tables," Mr Fernandez said.
"We are artistic here. When people come they experience inside with music and culture, so we will bring that outside.
"It is a good chance to give another kind of experience."
RELATED COVERAGE: Support for outdoor dining
Mr Fernandez referred to new art mural on the brick wall in the laneway beside the restaurant as an example of the vibrant change that could be achieved.
"We have been here seven years in Ballarat with Meigas. Back then at 7.30pm there would be no one in the street," he said.
"It had the mentality of a small town. Now we have Meigas open until 10.30pm and we still have people coming for dinner then now.
"In seven years it has changed so much. I think every year it changes in Ballarat.
"Now you have more choice and different culture in the street and people are moving more. For me every change brings good things.
"I think now if we are going outside, people are going to change their mentality."
See residents enjoy dining at other venues around Ballarat on Thursday.
The Forge Pizzeria director Tim Matthews said his team had worked hard this week to set up tables, chairs and heaters out the front of the restaurant.
The team can now seat 50 people outside, which is the maximum under current restrictions, with some tables spread to the front of Housey Housey and 1816 Bakehouse when it is closed.
Mr Matthews said although his restaurant has reached outdoor capacity, ideas for the dining precinct such as closing Armstrong Street were worth considering, as long as all businesses had input.
"In terms of Armstrong Street, we are hoping in the next few weeks to have discussions with the other operators and see what they are thinking, but we are comfortable going step by step," he said.
"We will work out what happens out the front of The Forge for now and what happens after that we will need to work through with the other operators."
Campana's manager Meg Campana said she was not sure whether the business would continue in a takeaway online model or have some outdoor dining, but she was excited to see Ballarat people celebrate food and wine in a different way.
"To have Ballarat come so far, I don't see why outdoor dining is something Ballarat couldn't do all year round," she said.
"Businesses are being innovative with blankets and heaters, everyone loves food and wine so I think it is great people are committed to celebrating it rain hail or shine.
"I am stoked to see the streets filled with life and food again."
Committee for Ballarat chief executive Michael Poulton said business owners would be innovative in response to restrictions, but he encouraged residents to be innovative too.
"Let's get used the fact you might not be able to park outside of every shop you are used to and embrace the fact you can walk around a great city," he said.
"It is about saying let's embrace something that is a bit different. What is to say the way we used to do things is the right way?
"There could be more culture in the street, more opportunity for people to come together, more chance for us to experience great opportunities around the town.
"Let's embrace that change. Let's make it part of the future rather than saying it is just the next few weeks."
State member for Wendouree Juliana Addison encouraged residents to think about going out for dinner other times during the week, rather than the traditional Friday and Saturday night and to also support restaurants at lunch time.
"We are really calling on Ballarat locals to come out, have a good time, dine out, have a beverage and shop in Ballarat. Our business needs you now more than ever," she said.
State member for Buninyong Michaela Settle said she encouraged businesses to apply for state government grants to help set up for outdoor dining.
City of Ballarat said it had created a new streamlined application form for outdoor dining and additional staff had been allocating to approve permits.
RELATED COVERAGE: Businesses prepare for reopening as council processes permits
A written statement said it was a requirement of council's local law that each application was considered on an individual basis, which did not allow a blanket approach for multiple new permits at different locations.
"We want to work with businesses to determine how and where we can help them provide outdoor dining options outside or near their front door. We're open to all ideas," City of Ballarat Mayor Ben Taylor said.
Ms Baur-Schmid said she hoped extensions to outdoor dining spaces would be permanent beyond COVID-19 restrictions during the warmer months in Ballarat.
Hospitality businesses interested in discussing options should contact the City of Ballarat's Business Help Desk by emailing email@example.com or phoning 5320 5500.