Australia

'We couldn't cope': Long lunches are back - in the suburbs

In the midst of the pandemic, suburban restaurants are booming.

Mosman fine-dining restaurant Ormeggio at The Spit is fully booked for lunch on several days during the week and is planning to open for all-day dining to cope with the demand.

"We've been at The Spit for 11 years and we've never had a winter like this," Ormeggio's co-owner Anna Pavoni said.

Ormeggio at The Spit is fully-booked for lunch several days a week as more people dine out while working from home.

Ormeggio at The Spit is fully-booked for lunch several days a week as more people dine out while working from home.Credit:Renee Nowytarger

"We're doing better than we were at this time last year, we're finding our weekdays are almost as busy as our weekends because people are working from home and keen to come out to lunch or they're able to make a six o'clock dinner because they're not commuting."

Lunchtime bookings have more than doubled in parts of Sydney's north and east and increased significantly in other areas following NSW's COVID-19 lockdown.

Lunch reservations now make up 41 per cent of all bookings in Mosman, up from 31 per cent before the lockdown, data from restaurant booking platform TheFork shows.

In Curl Curl, lunch reservations have increased to 43 per cent of all bookings since April, up from 21 per cent at the beginning of the year, and in Katoomba, they make up 37 per cent of bookings, up from 27 per cent.

In Centennial Park, lunch bookings now comprise 30 per cent of bookings, up from 11 per cent before the lockdown.

"If you look at working from home, people can have long lunches. They used to pop in and out of the CBD, now they're with friends and colleagues going for a two-hour lunch," The Fork’s Australia manager Gary Burrows said.

Associate professor in work and organisational studies at the University of Sydney Angela Knox said an increase in demand for businesses outside employment centres was emerging as a result of professionals working from home, in a pattern that could last for years after the pandemic.

"People working remotely are still taking their breaks and going to local restaurants and pubs instead of doing that in the inner city where they were working," she said.

"We'll see some of these shifts continue in the same kind of direction, more and more employees are saying that even when they're able to go back, they want to continue working remotely."

Ms Pavoni said lifestyle changes created by the pandemic have also created an increase in demand on traditional meal times and restaurants are beginning to change the way they operate.

"We reopened [after the lockdown] in June and, after a month of being open, we couldn't cope with the level of business, it's quite astonishing," she said.

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"We've just made the decision we're going to open for all-day dining on Friday and Saturday, as well as Sunday, so we'll take bookings throughout the afternoon.

"Because no one's in the office, they're able to come in at 4pm for a negroni and start their night, it helps us spread out the business to the floor and kitchen. Before COVID-19, people coming in before 6pm was impossible."

Overall, restaurant bookings in NSW are down 25 per cent since before the lockdown, while they are down about 50 per cent nationally.

The average number of people per booking in NSW is currently 3.6.

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