As Auckland wades through its longest lockdown, hospitality leaders are drawing up plans for the Government to consider following in the footsteps of Paris and San Francisco for al fresco dining

Aucklanders can picnic in the park, but hospitality businesses would like to see their patrons wining and dining in the streets.

Auckland Council has extended existing and new food-only outdoor licences issued under the Trading and Events in Public Places Bylaw and waived application and rental fees for the same period as Auckland is in Levels 4 to 2, up to a maximum of six months.

About 700 outdoor dining licences will be eligible for the extension.

But since August, the council has only received 12 new licence applications and only one has been approved so far.

“With regard to the other applications, we are waiting for the operator to supply more information, provide details for the inspection to take place or the operator is looking at the Covid-19 requirements to ensure that any extension will comply with these rules,” the council said in a written statement.

Parnell restaurant Va Bene owner Paul Patterson has been trading for pick-up in Level 3 from the car park behind his restaurant. But Patterson has been waiting for more than a month for a response on his application to dine customers there.

“If we can get that carpark up and running in Level 3.2 that would be great for us. It’s a sunny carpark, a good spot. It’s just trying to get the application through, really.”

At this rate, Patterson says he’d be lucky to trade al fresco style in January. 

Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois says a big barrier has been that until a couple of weeks ago costs were not waived for businesses wanting to apply for new licences.

Application fees usually cost $382 and rental fees depend on the location.

While those fees have since been waived, businesses are being tied down by legislation – the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012. 

Bidois says the industry’s main objective is to extend the licence’s footprint which is currently tied to a business’ floor plan to enable businesses to submit a liquor licence for an alternative floor plan like a carpark, laneway or park to sell alcohol.

“The problem with the level restrictions is you’ve got to wait to hear the announcement and then scramble around for the next 36 hours to write your protocols.”
– Andrew Roberts, restaurant owner

She says Auckland could follow in the footsteps of cities like Paris which have made ‘terrace dining’ a permanent fixture in summer, offering the public the ability to socialise outdoors during the pandemic while helping hospitality. 

“We’re after something along the lines of what was proposed for the Rugby World Cup, the extended hours of trade.

“A liquor licence is approved for the square metre edge of your outdoor area. So if you already have a licence, it’s that licence approval is associated with your footprint. So if you can get an extension for your outdoor dining, say an extra metre, technically your liquor licence wouldn’t extend to that new area.”

Andrew Roberts, owner of Ponsonby restaurant Longroom, says a number of local business associations were drawing up a proposal that would be backed by the council to lobby central government for a possible law change.

Roberts says he would be happy if liquor licensing is extended temporarily or permanently. 

“Every venue is different so there is no one plan that fits all but we need to find a way that 90 percent of the operators could benefit from. The new suggested footprint would only be allowed while the alert level was in place.”

But he fears time is running out, as businesses need to prepare for a plan.

“Realistically, we’re probably three to four weeks away from opening up being able to do this. And if we don’t get the licences or the groundwork in place now, we don’t have a chance to plan or create spaces, or work out what type of timeframe to invest. And our budgets are really limited at the moment because we haven’t traded for eight weeks.”

Auckland businesses are in the dark about whether they can open under 3.2 for outdoor dining. Photo: Unsplash

Auckland’s retail can open at Level 3.2, but hospitality cannot until Level 3.3.

Roberts says it was still unclear to businesses about whether hospitality could potentially trade earlier with outdoor dining.

“The problem with the level restrictions is you’ve got to wait to hear the announcement and then scramble around for the next 36 hours to write your protocols.”

Nelson drinks company Chia Sisters’ biggest market is New Zealand’s cafe scene, and Auckland makes up a chunk of that customer base. 

Chia Sisters’ Florence Van Dyke, who recently moved to the United States, says outdoor dining has become the norm in San Francisco and had a flow-on effect limiting cars in the area.

“Almost every cafe and bar that’s able has set up outdoor dining. That means all the cars are off the road, and where carparks would normally be there are these makeshift frameworks with fairy lights and tables and chairs,” Van Dyke says.

“And that’s really created this nice atmosphere. A street down our road that has completely closed off the entire block and this French restaurant has set up tables all down the street.”

The city of San Francisco also has a mandate that requires customers to be fully vaccinated.

Restaurant owner Roberts says the rest of the world has changed and New Zealand was lagging behind.

“Auckland is going to be the Covid capital of New Zealand forever. We’re still trying to work out what’s happening today or tomorrow when we should be preparing a plan for the next six weeks. We can’t think in terms of today and tomorrow, it’s what can we change in four to six weeks’ time when we get a chance to open up.”

Justice Minister Kris Faafoi has been approached for comment.

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