A Ballarat business has said it may have to cut staff as council's outdoor dining trial comes to an end.
The City of Ballarat provided footpath and on-street dining permits to several businesses during 2020 in a bid to increase capacity for hospitality outlets hit by the pandemic, and in January, installed two temporary dining "pods" on Armstrong Street and Sturt Street funded by the state government.
These pods are now being removed, with council promising to install "smaller" infrastructure like wind breaks and umbrellas across the city.
However, businesses with other arrangements, like Armstrong Street's Pancho restaurant, have also been forced to remove their outdoor dining setup.
Pancho was one of the first businesses in town to trial an expanded outdoor dining zone, with council granting a permit to take up a single parallel car park outside their premises - Pancho was unable to extend its footprint on the footpath, as it's a standalone building with a lane on one side and an off-street car park on the other.
Owner-director Simone Baur-Schmid said the outdoor area doubled the restaurant's capacity, and new staff was employed to keep up with the intense demand - cutting the outdoor dining was "counter-productive".
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"For us, having that additional space really worked, we were then able to fit at least another 10 tables out there, depending on group sizes," she said.
"We're such a small venue inside, when we were limited to 10 people inside that was just three tables for us.
"We knew it was a temporary thing that would be looked at down the track about whether it would be extended."
It's great that Ballarat has... so much organised to get people to regional towns, but now when people are calling, we have to say we don't have spacePancho's Simone Baur-Schmid
Ms Baur-Schmid said demand had increased as well, with the restaurant now booked out weeks in advance.
"People are coming to Ballarat, because of all the new campaigns about visiting regions, and now we can't offer anything," she said.
"It's great that Ballarat has the regional vouchers and so much organised to get people to regional towns, but now when people are calling, we have to say we don't have space.
"Not having that means I'm going to need at least half the amount of staff."
The restaurant is now stuck, she said, with no word on what will happen next for its on-street dining.
"We received an email (from council) on March 24 - they "regretfully had to inform" us that the last day of trade (for on-street dining) would be April 7," she said.
"The only other thing mentioned was that they're in the process of assessing the footpath adjacent to see whether we can install infrastructure for outdoor dining, but we haven't heard anything back."
She said she is confident a solution can be found that balances parking requirements, Ballarat's weather, and the need for businesses to find capacity.
"It's always going to be hard to work out what's best for everyone, but with big picture thinking, there's no reason why Armstrong Street can't be the next Lygon Street, where it's more outdoor dining than parking, and more of a walking area," she said.
"It's not only us, for a lot of other venues that struggle to get a large volume of people in with all the extra demand from interstate and metro travelers, something needs to be done so we can expand our spaces and accommodate that demand."
Another Armstrong Street trader, The Forge's Tim Matthews, said Pancho's outdoor option had been "a great addition to the street".
"Pancho's done it really well, I'd definitely support Pancho in keeping that outdoor dining going in some way," he said.
"The reality for a lot of businesses, including ours, is we don't have the floorspace to return to our normal numbers, and every business has to do what they can to survive.
"I think some businesses have invested a lot in it, and where possible I think they should be supported, with that dialogue continuing."
The City of Ballarat's media release states "(w)hilst Ballarat might be farewelling the distinctive dining cubes, the City is preparing to introduce new outdoor dining spaces in Ballarat". "The (state) government's Outdoor Dining and Entertainment Package is also funding the installation of smaller infrastructure such as glass wind barriers and umbrella sockets at hospitality venues across Ballarat," it states.
"Council's Economic Development team is working with operators who successfully applied for the grants to roll out the new infrastructure in coming months."
In response to business owner concerns, a council spokesperson reiterated the permits were temporary.
"The dining hubs and extended dining permits in Armstrong Street were issued to traders for a temporary, trial period until the end of Easter," they said in a statement. "Council is thrilled that tourists are returning and supporting our hospitality industry.
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"Armstrong Street is a mix of businesses and consideration must be given to all traders operating in the area.
"Council's survey to determine reaction to the trial outdoor dining arrangements will help determine a way forward and where funds should be invested for future outdoor dining options in Ballarat."
Community consultation on the outdoor dining scheme closes Friday, April 16, through council's MySay page.
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