Hospitality businesses doing it tough

TOUGH: Toni Vorenas said she has noticed a drop off over the last week in her regulars coming into the cafe.

Elsie Adamo

THERE is no denying it is a tough time to be a hospitality business owner.

The impacts of the community spread of Covid-19, further restrictions and staff shortages are being felt by almost every industry, with many businesses across the South East having to limit opening hours, or close entirely.

For hospitality businesses it is just the latest disappointment in what was meant to be a period when things were starting to recover.

Many of the staff at Metro Bakery and Café have been forced into isolation and owner Toni Vorenas has been running short staffed for the last two weeks.

“Normally on a day like today we would have six staff out the front and three out the back,” Ms Vorenas said.

“Today we did it with three staff for both.”

Ms Vorenas said the business is already closing early each day, and it would only take one more staff member to become a close contact to force her to temporarily shut the business.

With no clear path out of current restrictions, Ms Vorenas said she and her staff are unsure on what the future holds, and it is starting to take a toll.

“Everyone is so Covid weary,” she said.

“We said to ourselves this is it, this is the year we will be really creative and get back to it, and this happens.

“As the manager and the owner, there is that real need to balance staying open and protecting your staff.”

Staff have been keeping in touch through group messages, making sure staff currently at home in isolation feel they are still part of the team.

Ms Vorenas said she is always aware of how reliant her staff are on their wages in times like these.

“Behind every staff member is a whole family,” she said.

“Two years ago we stood down our staff and shut this place down for eight weeks and just ran our smaller store in order to survive.

“It was the hardest thing I have ever done, and the thought of ‘what if we have to do that again?’ is awful.”

Her experience is similar to that of many business owners, weighing up giving staff enough hours and keeping them and the community safe.

“Being at 25 per cent capacity, at some point you need to reduce your staff significantly,” she said.

“A lot of businesses are having to make a lot of hard decisions.”

By January hospitality businesses across the State were expecting to be back to full capacity, but the highly contagious Covid-19 variant Omicron derailed original plans.

It has been almost two years since Metro was allowed to operate at full capacity, and Ms Vorenas said the focus is still on just treading water, not making a profit.

“The bottom line has been irrelevant for two years, it has all been about survival,” she said.

“We have not been at capacity since the pandemic started.

“I have lost track of how many times my staff have asked me if there will be a lockdown, but in my mind I think we are already locked down.”

Ms Vorenas said a lack of communication from the Government on what may be around the corner has been frustrating.

“I think I am actually angry,” she said.

“I feel like we do not have information, how long are we at 25 per cent capacity? What will happen next week?

“We have to ask ourselves the question at what point is it no longer viable to be open.

“It is a long time to be in survival mode.”