Pubs and Clubs close dining options, turn to takeaways to survive COVID-19 closures

Two of the Oriental Hotel’s owners, Ellen (left) and Tanya Webb, with Ellen’s two (now) unemployed sons, Euan and Austin McDougall. THE COVID-19 closures have impacted every aspect of the families’ lives and businesses.

“Scrambling” after an abrupt announcement from the federal government that all pubs and clubs were to close Monday at noon, local licensees said they’d be hit hard by the announcement, but no harder than other small businesses around the country.

The latest closures were announced Sunday evening by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, after consulting with the national cabinet on appropriate measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Oriental Hotel Licensee Ellen Webb was in good humour on Monday morning ahead of a staff meeting where she was preparing to tell her staff that they’ll likely be out of work for the next four to six months. This is typically their busiest time of year, serving 200 evening meals on a regular Saturday and 150 on a Friday. Business hasn’t dropped significantly yet, but it will. Ellen said people were having a “last hurrah” over the weekend in anticipation of further closures.

After speaking with the Premier’s office on Monday, Webb had secured permission to continue working with Snowy Valleys motels to offer takeaway service for visitors and the general public.

Ellen asked the Premier’s office for some extra consideration for country towns where the city’s “one size fits all” approach doesn’t always work.

“I know that you have to do this and it has to be done,” Ellen told the Premier’s staff, “But when you do this stuff, you don’t consider small country towns that don’t have a lot of restaurants.”

While the crisis continues, the Ori and other pubs and clubs in the region will continue to offer takeaway service, respecting the government’s announcement that all indoor dining has to close. 

“It’s all pretty sad,” said Ellen.

The very picture of a modern Australian family, Ellen and her husband, David McDougall’s, three sons and daughter were each uniquely impacted by the COVID-19 closures. 

Alec McDougall ran a bar in Canberra called the Tipsy Bull. It’s also closed because of COVID-19 and Ellen said Alec was “on the Centrelink website as we speak,” hoping to receive some of the government’s stimulus money for people left unemployed as a result of social distancing and the economy slow down.

Euan McDougall just finished high school and is taking a gap year. His plans for traveling, working and saving money for uni came to a sudden halt last week.

Austin McDougall was playing for the Wynnum-Manly Seagulls in the Queensland Cup under 20’s competition, along with Jacob Sturt, but they’re both back at home now and unemployed after the season was put on hold.

Ellen and David’s daughter, Cassandra, is 9 months pregnant, living just over the NSW/VIC border and ready to give birth any day. Ellen is waiting for the call to help take care of Cassandra’s toddler while Cassandra and her husband are in delivery. Cassandra can’t find any toilet paper and Ellen’s not completely sure she’ll be allowed to cross the border when the time comes.

Ellen Webb holds a staff meeting at the Ori on Monday afternoon, ensuring staff are practicing “social distancing” as they prepare to close, except for takeaway orders, for the foreseeable future.

Despite the family impacts, and the business repercussions for David and Ellen’s two businesses – the Ori and their gin-making company The Pretty Parrot – the McDougalls are remaining positive.

“We have our home, we have our family,” said Ellen. “There’s nothing we can do about this except live our lives well and appropriately.”

“We’ll all just have to wait. The government has been sending mixed messages, but they’re going hour to hour as well, so you can’t blame them for that.”

While the hotel and Pretty Parrot tasting room wait for the crisis to play out, they’ll be putting as many bills on hold as they can, asking for a freeze on mortgage payments, rates, electricity and the phone. Other costs, like insurance, will have to be paid. 

And then there’s the beer. 

“All our beer, what are we supposed to do with our beer and our wine?” asked Ellen.

“If this lasts 2 months that’s not such a bad thing [for us]. If it’s 6 months, that’s pretty horrific. But we’re not the worst off in the world.”

Jarrad Rossiter, CEO at Club Tumut, had a similar attitude. Club Tumut hosts many of the area’s largest events, but has seen significant numbers of cancellations since COVID-19 began making headlines. Jarrad said the Club closed at noon Monday and wouldn’t reopen until they got the official green light from the government. 

“Long story short, we’ll be shut 12 o’clock [Monday]. Completely,” said Jarrad.

Club Tumut will continue to pay permanent staff their salaries, giving casual staff as many shifts as possible to “tie up loose ends” in the coming days. Jarrad hoped the casual staff would be able to access government stimulus money to get them through.

“Our two biggest carnivals of the year were coming up, one next week and one at Easter. We had to cancel those,” said Jarrad, explaining that decision had come from bowl’s governing body, leaving C lub Tumut with no option but to close. 

Like other businesses, the club will be asking for its bills to be frozen and rely on its reserves to get through the next few months. 

Typically, wages cost the club $10,000 a week, with other expenses (during peak trading) at $90-100,000. Jarrad said without any income coming in, and with a pause on mortgage and other payments, they’ll be okay in the immediate future.

“What can we do?” he asked. 

“I predicted we’d be shut in the next two weeks, it’s just happening so quick now.

“It is what it is. There’s people worse off than what Club is, but if we’re not trading in another 4 or 5 months, it’s not looking good, but I think the whole country’s in the same situation.”

Club Tumut will also turn to takeaway and mobile catering to help some of its staff and contractors get through. Contract caterers Amy Hung and “Jimmy” are considering offering takeaway meals, using the Club Tumut courtesy bus to do home deliveries for dinner from Wednesday through Sunday.

“There’s plenty of food out there, if people want to ring up,” said Jarrad.

Over at the Ori, Ellen agreed, saying she was getting a small order in, but would still have takeaway food “We’ve got to understand people are losing their jobs and will be emotional and scared and there’s going to be hard times ahead.

“We’re all just waiting, waiting to see what’s going to happen with our lives, with our houses, just waiting.”