Find Out How Melbourne’s Restaurants Will Tackle Outdoor Dining

By Ben Tyers
18th Sep 2020

The external dining tables at Tokyo Tina on Chapel Street in Melbourne.

This week Daniel Andrews announced a $290 million package to help the entertainment industry, and allow changes in the CBD to make way for outdoor dining to take place.

The package will allow businesses to buy items such as umbrellas, outdoor furniture, screens, and more to make outdoor dining work for them. Grants will be available to licensed and unlicensed cafés, restaurants, takeaway food businesses, pubs, taverns, bars and clubs with a payroll of less than $3 million—with more than 11,000 Melbourne businesses eligible to benefit.

Residents in cities such as New York, London, and Los Angeles have all embraced the outdoor dining concept. New York City has recently announced that diners will once again be allowed to head back indoors, which is welcome news given only half of New York's 25,000 restaurants and bars have taken part in the outdoor dining program.

The issues have been numerous, from reduced capacity, struggling to get staff, relying on government payments, and many more—but one thing is for sure, the reception from the local communities has been remarkable.

We spoke to Melbourne restauranteurs to get their take on how they'll tackle setting up outdoor dining options for their customers, and what we can learn from overseas cities that are currently having to do the same.

Ash Dyer | Hemingway's Wine Room

"We are in a unique situation of Hemingway's being on Wellington parade on a 60km/h street and across from a tram zone. We really want to be able to have some form of outdoor area, whether it be a stand-up bar or seating area, but will need to work closely with the council to make sure our patrons are safe. If it can work, it will re-energise Wellington Parade and East Melbourne’s nightlife.

I think the new traffic zones will make a massive difference to us. Like they have done in New York and London, rezoning Wellington Parade to 40km/h to match Flinders and Bridge Road will change the entire strip of the restaurant and connect the city with Richmond.

The idea of “pop up” bars and restaurants in parks would be amazing."

Simon Blacher | Tokyo Tina, Hanoi Hannah

"We will take advantage of any space we can access. We have a few ideas around activations that will elevate our customers experience in the new outdoor dining room.

I think the council have a social and economic responsibility to make it as easy and as accessible as possible. There is a huge opportunity for Melbourne to take what has been a catastrophic clusterfuck and turn it into a new way to dine and live in our city.

Unfortunately, we live in Melbourne and its (4 seasons in one day) #paulkelly. I think we should be allowed to take back the footpath. By this I mean we should be able to have our seating hard up against the facade of our venues. At present in Melbourne, all venues must leave a clearance between their door and the begging of the seating.

Until the time comes that we can return to indoor dining, councils should amend these laws use these spaces."


"The approach will be different for each of our locations. At Bar Carolina, we've already been in touch with the Stonnington Council and put forward a suggestion to close off the adjacent side street in a way that wouldn't create any issues for residents, but instead, contribute to the community feel of tight-knit South Yarra. At Tetto, we have a beautiful alfresco terrace where we host live jazz music, so the main focus will be in activating that space.

In the city at Il Bacaro and Marameo, we're already talking to our neighbours at Bar Ampere and Gin Palace about collaborating to create a hub on Russell Place and Little Collins Street — to work together to really achieve a vibrant Melbourne feeling — as there are a few vacant retail stores on our laneway and we'd like to maximise our capacity by using their frontage. I hope that Melbourne City Council will make things as easy as possible for set up, and additional council grants to cover the costs (which will go far beyond the State Government's $3k allocation) are very welcome."

Kate Maher | Veneziano Coffee Roasters

"With only a narrow footpath we will look to utilise the recessed parking bays located on River Street out the front of our café. Considerations around micro-infrastructure will include plastic shielding between tables to create a COVID-safe experience, concrete barriers for the protection of patrons and staff from traffic, as well as shade and shelter so customers are somewhat protected from the elements. Larger challenges will include parking bay gradient and overcoming the natural unevenness of roads and cobblestone gutters which are challenging at the best time.

With the above considerations, Veneziano Richmond Café intends to roll out a curbside space which complements our brand and the Richmond street aesthetic seating up to 40 customers utilising mature trees, hardwood benches and tables, two coffee bars for our 30-Minute Sip coffee experience.

We have worked extensively with Yarra City Council through renovations, site upgrades and licence variations. There is an inherent degree of bureaucracy to all local councils, however, we have found the City of Yarra to be partnership-orientated, ultimately striking a balance between its residential constituents and the commercial realities of business in an inner-city suburb.

In New York and London, there has been a sense of relief from both diners and venues that dining is back; venues can trade and customers can escape from their four walls and their kitchens. Those of us who have managed to survive up until this point will need to give the customers who have supported us great big coffee and green curried scrambled egg hugs as we all breathe a sigh of relief.

It is important to bring the fun. In New York, we are seeing more of a party atmosphere, almost as if being outside away from the confines of the venue people are more relaxed.

In both cites we’re seeing customers embrace the pivot—Melbourne operators can be confident in a similar embrace, so if you need to take some risks to get yourself into the market, you should do so. 

Catch up on the whole proposed outdoor dining plan for Melbourne here.

Image credit: Annika Kafcaloudis

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