Outdoor dining seen as crucial in age of Covid-19 distancing

Hamilton City Council will introduce measures to help restaurants and cafes expand their outdoor dining offerings. From left, Hamilton deputy mayor Geoff Taylor, Hamilton Central Business Association general manager Vanessa Williams, Hamilton mayor Paula Southgate and Mat Pedley from Waikato Food Inc.
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Hamilton City Council will introduce measures to help restaurants and cafes expand their outdoor dining offerings. From left, Hamilton deputy mayor Geoff Taylor, Hamilton Central Business Association general manager Vanessa Williams, Hamilton mayor Paula Southgate and Mat Pedley from Waikato Food Inc.

Outdoor dining will become a major feature of Hamilton’s hospitality culture as the city bounces back from lockdown restrictions.

In a move designed to help struggling cafe and restaurant operators, city councillors have backed measures to enable more outdoor dining.

The council will extend outdoor dining permits and waive all fees and charges. New outdoor dining applications will be prioritised and issued for 12 months.

Hamilton deputy mayor Geoff Taylor​ said the measures respond to a plea from the city’s hospitality sector.

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Expanding outdoor dining enables cafes and restaurants to host more patrons while adhering to Covid-19 physical distancing requirements.

“These operators are a huge part of the fabric of our city, and they’re desperately hurting,” said Taylor who chairs the central city and river plan advisory group.

Outdoor dining was a popular option at Hamilton's cafes and restaurants prior to the city's Covid-19 lockdown (file photo).
Stuff
Outdoor dining was a popular option at Hamilton's cafes and restaurants prior to the city's Covid-19 lockdown (file photo).

“Some [operators] will survive, some will go to the wall ... but this is one little thing that we can do to support them.”

Hamilton mayor Paula Southgate​ said lockdown rules have severely restricted the city’s hospitality businesses and their plight has come to a “critical head”. The new council measures will make a difference to operators in the short-term.

The suite of actions were agreed to at Thursday’s council meeting, with councillor Rob Pascoe​ the sole dissenting voice.

Pascoe, who chairs the council’s finance committee, said he supports the intention to help the city’s restaurants and cafes, but the council measures have not been costed.

Waiving fees and charges for outdoor dining, without knowing the full cost to the city, sets a “bad precedent”, says Hamilton City councillor Rob Pascoe (file photo).
Christel Yardley/Stuff
Waiving fees and charges for outdoor dining, without knowing the full cost to the city, sets a “bad precedent”, says Hamilton City councillor Rob Pascoe (file photo).

The city faces challenging times ahead and costs are already starting to mount ahead of the council's annual plan discussions next year.

“I think it’s a bad precedent and certainly not one I want on my watch that we make decisions without looking at the financial impact,” Pascoe said.

“If we’ve got 3000 tables right around the whole city, and we give up all of those fees, we’re talking about $150,000 a year in revenue.”

But Pascoe’s stance drew a rebuttal from councillor Ewan Wilson​ who said hospitality operators are hurting more than any other business sector.

Hamilton City councillor Ewan Wilson says the hospitality sector is hurting more than any other business group (file photo).
CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF
Hamilton City councillor Ewan Wilson says the hospitality sector is hurting more than any other business group (file photo).

Councillors would have to be disconnected from the pain of business owners to want to delay support being offered to them.

“We have had a desperate call from a sector of business that is one of the corner points of Hamilton’s reputation,” Wilson said.

“I just find it incredulous that there would be any hesitation in wanting to support this desperate need from this business sector.”

Vanessa Williams,​ general manager of the Hamilton Central Business Association, said the council support would make a “huge difference” to many operators’ viability.

The city council is also backing a request to the Government from the Restaurant Association of New Zealand, Hospitality NZ and Heart of the City Auckland, to change liquor legislation that will enable outdoor diners to have a glass of wine or beer with a meal.