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Making the Most of the COVID-19 Shutdown

As featured on the QHA website on 30 April, 2020.

We are all counting down the days until this virus has been contained and it is safe for hotels, pubs and bars to open again. The enforced shutdown has had an unprecedented impact on the hospitality industry, but many of the hoteliers I know are still hard at work trying to make the most of this difficult period. In that spirit, here are a few things that you can do during the shutdown so that you are ready to go, all guns blazing, the moment your doors reopen.

  1. Start planning a reopening event

Why not add to the celebration and cheer when the restrictions are lifted by throwing a reopening event? We all know successful events take plenty of time and thought, so what better time to start planning than right now?

Just remember to follow the usual rules around liquor promotions. In particular, you must not advertise any of the following outside of your venue:

  • “two for one” deals and similar promotions;
  • the sale price of liquor for consumption on the premises; or
  • “happy hour” or other promotions offering discounted drinks.
  1. Renovate or refurbish

Many hoteliers are using this time to renovate their premises without any interruption to their business. If you want to do likewise, remember that you may need:

  • building approval from your local council, depending on the nature of the works;
  • OLGR approval if you are increasing or decreasing the size of your licensed area. Note, OLGR is waiving the normal application fees for such applications until 31 July 2020;
  • OLGR approval if rebuilding or conducting major renovations to your licensed area, such as knocking down a wall within a licensed area or other works exceeding $50,000 in value. The usual application fees still apply to these applications;
  • OLGR approval if relocating a licensed gaming area to a different part of your venue;
  • to engage a Licensed Monitoring Operator (LMO) if you need to turn off your gaming machines to complete the works; and
  • to obtain a new acoustics report if you are renovating an area where there will be amplified entertainment.
  1. Update the configuration of your venue

Once the ban is lifted, you will probably still need to promote the ‘1.5 metre social distancing rule’ and venues may be restricted to a maximum of one person per four square metres. Other measures have also been mooted, such as that venues should be sit-down only to stop patrons infringing the 1.5 metre rule when queuing at bars.

How would this work at your venue? Can you reposition furniture to keep patrons 1.5 metres apart?  Should you seek OLGR approval to increase the size of your licensed area, such as by adding an outdoor area to accommodate more patrons?

  1. Review and update operations manuals and other policy documents

We are currently being forced to rethink the way that we approach our work, and many of the changes we have been implementing may be worth retaining once things return to normal. What new hygiene practices have you put in place; what efficiencies have you developed while working remotely; and how can you incorporate these processes into your post-pandemic operation? This is the ideal time to ask your staff for their feedback and to update your operations manual accordingly.

You might also take this opportunity to review other operations documents such as your risk-assessed management plan (RAMP), staff training manuals and responsible gaming policies, and to update legal documents such as staff letters of engagement and your standard venue hire or function agreements.

  1. Review your customer databases

Now is as good a time as any to ensure your customer databases are up to date. Remember also that if your turnover exceeds $3 million per annum, you must comply with the requirements of the Privacy Act and the Notifiable Data Breaches (NDB) scheme by ensuring customers’ personal information is kept securely and that you have policies and procedures in place to minimise the risk of data breaches. If you have questions on this topic, please refer to my article titled How to protect your customers’ privacy in the digital age.

  1. Review leases and supply agreements

At time of writing, we are still waiting for the state governments to fully legislate the Commercial Tenancy Mandatory Code of Conduct that has been announced by the National Cabinet.  However, that should not stop you from opening the discussion with your landlord about rent relief while your venues are closed. Likewise, many clients are contacting us to review their supply agreements and to understand their rights to renegotiate with your suppliers.

  1. Forge new connections and solidify existing ones

This is a great time to acquaint (or reacquaint) yourself with the local Member of Parliament, city councillor and the local police station. A meeting in person may not be practical, but a simple phone call or even a Zoom conference can help lay a platform for you to work with other people into the future.

Likewise, don’t forget to stay in touch with other contacts – particularly staff who you may no longer see on a daily basis. I am finding that phone calls, and particularly video calls by Skype, Facetime and Zoom, are appreciated by many of those who may be struggling with isolation.

This shutdown may be preventing business as usual, but that is not to say that the hard work has stopped completely. I wish you all the very best in weathering the current storm – and look forward to joining you for a drink, in your venues, when we come out the other side. If you would like to discuss how your venue can maximise this shutdown period, please do not hesitate to call me on 07 3224 0230.

Article written by Curt Schatz (Managing Partner) and Glen Rolley (Associate).

"The content of this publication is for reference purposes only. It is current at the date of publication. This content does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be obtained before taking any action based on this publication."