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Now that restaurants and cafes are starting to reopen, we all need to agree on a set of rules.

The hospitality industry is among one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown measures.

After months of limited trading, with strict takeaway only measures in most states, restaurants and cafes are slowly starting to reopen with limited capacity and social distancing measures.

We can go out for brunch with friends again, or grab dinner and a drink.

But things aren’t back to ‘normal’, especially not for those who own and work in hospitality establishments.

On Saturday night, Sydney restaurant Low 302 had a booking for four people under the name Aimee.

Under current restrictions, restaurants and cafes are allowed to seat up to 10 people at a time, so that booking represented 40 per cent of Low 302’s entire capacity.

Aimee, and her other three guests, did not show up.

“You didn’t have the common courtesy to call us up and cancel,” the restaurant wrote in a strongly-worded Facebook post outlining why this was so damaging to its business.

“We had people on a waiting list who would have been happy to take your reservation.

“Maybe you have no idea the financial impact this has on a restaurant right now. Maybe you don’t care.

“You have single-handedly set the worst of precedence for our entire industry at this most difficult time. Furthermore you have put us in the position of having to now ask other bookings to pay a deposit when booking. Something we really wanted to avoid having to do.”

Speaking to Mamamia, a spokesperson for Low 302 said they had been “very humbled and overwhelmed” by the positive messages of support they received following the post.

With social distancing set to be around for the foreseeable future even as Australia continues to succeed against the virus, we – the Australian public – are the ones who can make or break businesses right now.

So the thing is, we as customers need to agree not to be an Aimee.

Basically, we need to try our best to ensure we’re not screwing anyone over. This means:

  • Dining out if doing so is in our means
  • Understanding the importance of making, keeping and turning up on time for bookings
  • If we need to cancel a booking, we do so with enough time for the establishment to refill the table
  • Respecting and following social distancing measures put in place by businesses
  • Accepting businesses may need to implement measures to protect themselves, such as a deposit with a booking or a minimum spend
  • Being understanding; this new normal is an adjustment for all of us, and a bit of patience and kindness can make all the difference

“Largely, our customers have been fantastic,” Low 302’s spokesperson told Mamamia, offering further suggestions on how to support hospitality businesses and workers.

“Being on time for the booking and checking for minimum spends (or at least being aware of your spend!) are both ways our regulars and customers have kept the ball rolling here.

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“We also believe that our staff and customers health comes first so there may be procedural changes that reflect that; being aware of the waiter’s movement at your table, strange sprays and wipes getting used constantly are all new issues that the industry is adjusting to.

“You can be assured your local restaurant is trying their very best to keep everyone healthy and turn a small profit at the same time so patience, understanding and consideration is what everyone needs right now.

“I’d also say be vocal about what you need – if you don’t want the waiter to top your water and to keep their distance, just ask.”

coronavirus australia update May 17
Customers of Piato restaurant in the suburb of North Sydney sit outside having lunch on May 15, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. Image: Getty.

She said 'no-shows' have always been an issue in the industry, but restrictions mean the margin for error is much smaller than usual, so a courtesy call is always appreciated.

Restaurant & Catering Industry Association CEO Wes Lambert told Mamamia between 70-75 per cent of hospitality businesses remained open for takeaway, grocery or other bespoke offerings during the most strict lockdown measures, and businesses welcome the additional bums on seats and look forward to more as restrictions ease to allow 20, 50 and eventually 100 people.

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But of course, there are estimations that many businesses will not survive.

"The New South Wales government just published a report that said that 6 per cent of restaurants in New South Wales have closed permanently, just since the restrictions were put in place seven weeks ago," Lambert said.

"We expect it is going to get worse."

"Australian diners will certainly be part of the recovery of restaurants... Customers are being asked to follow COVID-safe guidelines and it's very important that customers follow those guidelines in the businesses they're in.

"When a customer breaks social distancing, when a customer doesn't accept the touchpoint reduction in businesses, when a customer cancels a booking last minute where the restaurant doesn't have a credit card to secure the booking, these are all things that hurt that business and industry specifically.

"Because there are so few customers allowed on premise - 10, 20, 50, 100 - our industry will continue to be affected by government restrictions, so we can only recover through customers."

Feature image: Getty.

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