It has been about five months since outdoor dining was flagged as a solution to help hard-hit hospitality businesses expand their restricted capacity in a 'COVID-safe' way.
City of Ballarat worked quickly to allow businesses to expand their footprint into carparks, in one case, even shutting off part of a laneway and later installed glass outdoor dining 'pods'.
But has the focus on outdoor dining actually worked for businesses?
There was speculation by some the model could never work with Ballarat's weather and concerns about loss of parking spaces.
A number of venues have reported positive feedback from customers and good results for business, with an ability to increase capacity beyond restricted indoor numbers.
It could be a hint as to what could be done throughout the other laneways, whether it be pop up markets or festivals.Elise Rowe, Hydrant Food Hall
Hydrant Food Hall received a permit to construct a temporary outdoor dining area outside their venue, blocking off McKenzie Street to through traffic.
Owner Elise Rowe said customers were showing a preference to sit outside on sunny days and were happy to sit outside on cooler days when the venue was at capacity inside.
She said blocking the laneway showed what was possible in Ballarat.
"This is only until the end of the permit at the moment which is due to end just after Easter," Ms Rowe said.
"But if we were to continue on with this sort of dining and given permission to keep it we could make it winter proof and make it a real attraction with support from council and other bodies.
"It could be a hint as to what could be done throughout the other laneways, whether it be pop up markets or festivals.
"They link some beautiful hospitality businesses on Doveton Street and Armstrong Street so why couldn't we create a nice block right through to Lydiard Street, with the other laneways like near Hop Temple.
"I definitely think there could be huge potential there."
In other areas, like outside restaurant Pancho, car parks have been cordoned off to allow more dining space.
Council and the state government have provided funding support for infrastructure.
This includes the installation of new glass pod dining areas in car parks on Sturt Street, between Dawson Street and Doveton Street, in mid-January and also on Armstrong Street.
Saigon Allee owner Rick Collins has been able to use one of the glass pods and said it had been good for his business. He said there had been many weekends when every space inside, in their courtyard and in the pod out the front had been at capacity.
"It has enabled me to expand our patronage," Mr Collins said.
"Due to COVID we are probably down by 15 indoors, so the pod has allowed another 10 or so people outside with chairs inside and outside the pod.
"All the feedback has been good, everyone has been happy with it. They enjoy Armstrong Street and say it is good the street is alive and there is a lot going on."
Mr Collins said the pods in front of his and two other neighbouring businesses took up about five car parks, but it had not been a concern, with the new 15 minute car parks assisting takeaway pickups.
"I thought takeaway would drop off but it hasn't," he said.
"Personally I don't think it is an issue."
Mr Collins said he would like permanent infrastructure to allow heating and cooling for outdoor dining to be enjoyed all year round.
Europa Cafe manager Josh Haire said the glass pod outside his Sturt Street business helped them meet demand on busy days and created a 'better vibe', particularly for their Friday night dinners.
"We can spread it out a bit easier outside, whereas inside we only have so much room to work with. The more space we have to social distance the better," he said.
"A couple of people have made comments about the car parking. Overall everyone has been asking what is happening out there and has liked it but the odd person doesn't like it because they think it is harder to get a park."
Commerce Ballarat chief executive Jodie Gillett said there were issues with the Armstrong Street pod as it took up space but sat empty on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday when the businesses were closed.
"The most important thing right now is putting people in the venues and if creating some cool spaces is helpful to that, that is great, but any decisions absolutely need to be industry led," she said.
It is important we create vibrancy in our CBD but it really does need to be in discussion with industry rather than dictated.Jodie Gillett, Commerce Ballarat
"It is important we create vibrancy in our CBD but it really does need to be in discussion with industry rather than dictated. Some good learnings from these have been about exploring all of the impacts.
"Creating vibrancy is better to all in the long run. It creates healthy businesses and creates jobs and builds the economy so it is important."
Committee for Ballarat chief executive Michael Poulton said the quick movement to create outdoor dining spaces showed what was possible in Ballarat.
"The council's capacity to navigate the various stakeholders including the public, venue operators and their own planning processes suggests that we are capable of making change and facilitating a new way of doing things quickly where there is a willingness to do so," he said.
"Being able to close off McKenzie Lane, you wouldn't have thought that was possible... We can do this if there is the right will and support to do so."
RELATED COVERAGE: Dining out changes in Ballarat's CBD cause concern for loss of parking
Mr Poulton said he would like to see outdoor dining taken to the next level with more permanent arrangements and more creative thinking about the activation of spaces.
"Consider spaces for community activation and not just outdoor dining," he said.
"The notion of outdoor pop up entertainment zones, performing street artists, performing arts, two on two basketball and quiet reflective places; being able to set up some of those zones around other parts of the city is important, the things that bring people to the CBD and create economic activity around that.
"If my mindset is just 'I drive my car, I go to that shop, I run in, I pick up my stuff and I run out again' that is really limiting the opportunity of what the streetscape provides. The Sturt Street pods give us an insight into what is possible if we reconfigure parking for other purposes.
"The outdoor dining experiment has given us a peek into what the CBD could look like where we have less main street parking and more main street activity."
Mr Poulton said he would like to see ideas come forward for the activation of 'dead' city spaces and for council to fast-track the ability for change as they did with outdoor dining in the past five months.
"Let's lift the bar and enhance the design elements and the variety. It is our turn to build that legacy, to really imagine the street scape for the city," he said
"That is what our city planners from years ago thought about and it is time for us to use this opportunity as more than just get over a pandemic and provide more capacity for hospitality venues, let's use it to reimagine what this streetscape could look like.
"There are regulations that need to be adopted, there are shifts in processes that need to be undertaken. I think what we have shown is we can do that if there is will and support to do so."
Mr Poulton said there were some great examples in Melbourne of how outdoor dining could become a way to attract people.
"The temporary structures are not that great from an appeal to Ballarat perspective," he said.
"If we look at the pods that are there now, they have increased capacity but visually we can be a whole lot better than that.
"We don't have to look too far to other areas of the country with permanent structures around outdoor dining that are visually very appealing. Ours increases capacity, but you have temporary big orange bollards that sit up around them that actually detract from the streetscape."
Mr Poulton said the ability to lift the design elements of the structures needed permanency, which required a whole new level of regulation and planning.
"We have demonstrated it is possible, let's go the next step," he said.
Have you signed up to The Courier's variety of news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in Ballarat.