Hospitality future in doubt

Lyn Mclachlan  TBW Newsgroup
UNPRECEDENTED TIMES: Hospitality operator Lyn McLachlan – who runs Limestone Coast Pantry – says Mount Gambier's hospitality sector has been crippled. But the operator has vowed to explore all options to survive the crisis. Picture: SANDRA MORELLO

Limestone Coast Pantry Staff  TBW Newsgroup
UNCERTAIN TIMES: Limestone Coast Pantry staff Allanah Berzer and Louise Beaman stand outside the venue yesterday.

THOUSANDS of people are expected to lose their jobs amid the immediate lockdown of hospitality venues across the region.

The Federal Government ban swept in at midday yesterday in a move to control the COVID-19 pandemic, which has triggered a tsunami of pain across the region’s hotel and cafe/restaurant sector.

Hundreds of jobs have already been lost as venues and cafes cease rostering casuals and consider the future of permanent employees.

Scrambling with less than 24 hours to shut their doors to in-house dining, tears flowed across empty cafes and licensed venues yesterday.

Closed signs – explaining business were closed temporarily due to the COVID-19 – were placed on entrance doors across the city’s central business district.

The lockdown of cafes/venues yesterday triggered long queues outside Mount Gambier’s Centrelink office as people scrambled to access government benefits.

Restaurants and cafes will only be allowed to serve takeaway, while essential services – including retail shops, offices and workplaces – will remain open under a suite of tough measures handed down by Federal Government.

Hospitality operator Lyn McLachlan revealed emotions were running high given the decimation of Mount Gambier’s cafe/restaurant sector.

“I am pretty emotional. It creeps in at times, but I need to stay strong for my staff. We will not go down without a fight,” Ms McLachlan told The Border Watch.

Fighting back tears, Ms McLachlan said the city’s hospitality industry had been stunned by the developments and called on the wider community to support small businesses.

“This is pretty devastating, we have 28 staff across our sites – that’s tough,” Ms McLachlan said.

“All of Mount Gambier’s hospitality industry is being shut down. More than ever we need to be kind to each other and come together as a community.”

She also called on people to follow social distancing rules to ensure Mount Gambier was not “hit big” with COVID-19.

Ms McLachlan – who operates Limestone Coast Pantry and the Mount Gambier Library cafe – said she was meeting with council staff yesterday to discuss a “way forward” for the public asset.

“What I am focusing on is looking after staff, considering the community and how we can manage our business effectively and safely to ensure the guidelines are met,” she said.

She revealed her company would focus on food manufacturing and takeaway meals during this crisis and strive to meet strict Federal Government guidelines.

In particular, she said the closure of the James Morrison Academy Jazz Club – which was co-located with Limestone Coast Pantry – was also disappointing for music students.

Australian Hotels Association SA general manager Ian Horne warned the sudden shutdown had crippled Mount Gambier’s hospitality sector.

He said hotels and hospitality venues were significant employers and the ripple effect across the Mount Gambier economy would be “enormous”.

“Many operators would had some pretty tough discussions with staff yesterday,” the hotel industry leader said.

Mr Horne said operators had been hit with a rapidly changing environment given the Federal Government only announced these bans late Sunday.

“It was not on their radar a week ago. Since then, they have been in free-fall.”

Mr Horne called on the State Government to put in measures to ensure operators could “come back” after the shutdown, which could linger for six months.

Operators are facing large GST payments as well as payroll tax bills and “needed cash flow”.

“There are no easy solutions to this. Operators need to bunker down.”

He warned the hospitality sector was among industries hit the hardest and needed support from the State Government.

“This will affect dozens of operators across Mount Gambier,” Mr Horne said.

“There is a lot of confusion and operators face big challengers. They will need to sit down and tell their employees the circumstances.”

He hoped some employees could take leave or long service to ride out the crisis.

But he warned this was not an option for casuals or those who have only been at the business for a short term.

Mr Horne also warned “not everybody” could survive on takeaway.