AFTER SEVEN months of lockdown, the Grand Hotel Warrandyte reopened its doors under the latest stage of COVID-19 restriction easings, on Saturday, October 31.
Manager Peter Appleby said that when they announced they would be opening, they were booked out for their first four days within 50 minutes.
“We went live on Thursday afternoon, then 50 minutes later we were fully booked for four sessions, for 70 people, and that is like that now until Monday week.”
Peter said that customer support and confidence is important.
“That people want to get back to normal living is great,” he said.
Peter said the whole lockdown was very frustrating with an uncertain roadmap out of restrictions and unviable limits put on customer caps.
“The build-up has been intense, where we got promised one thing and then had it taken away from us.”
On October 19, Premier Daniel Andrews was expected to announce the reopening of hospitality, but put a pause on the reopening when there was a surge in cases in North Western Melbourne.
This was reversed 24 hours later with a rapid reopening announced as the state reported zero cases for two days in a row, and blitzed through the targeted 14-day average daily case number of five.
Despite being able to open four days earlier, the Grand took their time getting their new outdoor space opened.
“We got 30 hours’ notice to pull it all together, it is just crazy… we have been working around the clock the last five days to be able to be open today.
“It is exciting that we can open, but the disappointing part is the capacity for inside space is quite challenging for us, where we are only allowed 10 people per room, maximum of two rooms.
“It is great that we have got 50 people in our beautiful outdoor space, but when it rains this afternoon, what are we going to do, send them all home?” he said.
Throughout the lockdown, Peter has been firm that the minimum number of patrons to be viable to open was 50, however, with a pre-COVID-19 capacity of 700, even that number is barely sufficient.
He said he was hoping for one person per four-square-meters inside.
“We are COVID Safe, we are ready to open and we can work to that — we manage people, we manage customers, we manage responsible service of alcohol — we are the heaviest regulated industry in Australia, let us manage COVID in a COVID-Safe manner.”
The pub will be using a QR Code for contact tracing, a questionnaire on arrival, as well as temperature checking.
As per the government guidelines, patrons can only consume food and drinks while seated.
The timing could not be better to launch the Grand’s newest outdoor space, a beer garden, which has replaced the drive through bottle shop.
Peter told the Diary since new management took over the pub in November 2012 they had had the idea of having an outdoor space.
“We started the job, and with COVID-19 restrictions coming into place, and with what we could open down the track, we thought let us pull the trigger and get it all ready for when we can open, because outside dining is obviously going to be around for a while.
“We are pretty happy with what the outcome is, although we are not finished,” he said.
He said they were working until 2am every night in the week leading up to the reopening to get the venue ready.
Helping with the reopening was local Member for Warrandyte, Ryan Smith who, as luck would have it, has an RSA qualification, so was able to pull the first beer.
“Good to see the pub back, it is a focal point for the community, and the hospitality sector has been hit really, really hard by the lockdowns.
“I think people are really keen to get out and back to seeing their friends and family and having a few drinks and socialising again, and if you are going to socialise in Warrandyte, there is no better place than the Grand Hotel,” Mr Smith told the Diary.
Peter is grateful for all the support he has received from the community since the pub closed its doors back in March.
“It has been wonderful; we have had a lot of messages of support.
“We did takeaway at the start, which was great, it was just great to see some faces, people need a pub, it is pretty important for people’s mental health — we saw a lot of people just come in for a chat, which is nice and people need that.
“As publicans we are a sounding board for a lot of people in so many ways; we reached out to a lot of our customers who perhaps needed us, just checking on them making sure they were doing ok.
“Of course the local support on social media has been fantastic, we were getting messages here and there, just random, ‘thinking of you guys’, and that just melts us you know, makes us feel wanted, needed and loved.
“Just as much as we love our community, it is nice that people love us,” he said.
Peter also reiterated the important role that the social environment the pub generates contributes to mental health.
“Getting staff back in to work has been very important for us.
“Mental health is a very important thing, and I know it is used a lot at the moment, but we have seen some people suffer, not just staff, but customers as well.
“Just to get the pub back for people to get the opportunity to come back to normal — well semi-normal — and get back some social skills, which people have sorely missed.”
The Diary spoke with some of the first customers through the doors who were all very eager to be back at their favourite local.
“We are super excited.”
“We have the first session and are back again on Tuesday as well.”
“Beautiful, can’t wait to get in there and get back on the beers.”
“Beer out of a glass, I can’t wait.”
Peter said booking for an outing to the pub was simple.
“You can book on our website, there is an easy to follow link on there.
“Also on Facebook and Instagram there is a link there as well, and it will bring up the slots that are available.
“Click on the link and put your booking in with a maximum booking size of 10.”
As of midnight Sunday, November 8, State Government increased the dining caps to 40 people indoors and 70 people outdoors.