What I learned from COVID.
Written By Melissa

I don’t know about you guys but when I’m in the thick of things, it’s hard to see. I kept wanting to get in and write my thoughts on what was happening – how it all felt and what we were doing – but I couldn’t make sense of the thoughts and feelings, clearly enough to formulate them into anything worth sharing.

And the truth is that to really dig into the past year and what it meant, would be a short novel. That nobody has time or care for. I’ll be brief and then get to what I came here for. To tell you ONE of the lessons for us this last year. But before then…

The stories of how the hospitality industry have been affected are all true. It’s been brutal. And inspiring. And we know we’re one of the lucky ones. Nothing prepares you to pivot. Businesses live and die on process and ensuring that forecasts are known and accurate and that targets are met. When someone/something (COVID, I’m looking at you) comes in and shuts you down or asks you to fundamentally change, everything falls into chaos. This experience was repetitive across 2020.

Something like this: 

  • Press Conference – new restrictions taking effect in 8 hours.

  • Time out for 15 minutes – cry, chili cheese fries, smoke, whatever your thing is.

  • Emergency meeting – get all the people in a room. What do we know? What’s happening today? What’s happening tomorrow? How can we stop the hemorrhage of money? Now.

*phones ringing, emails pinging, staff inquiring

List of priorities – speak to staff, tell them what we know (and don’t know) and what the basic plan is. Call guests, change information on website, google, phones, facebook, booking system. Put a stop to food/drink orders. Stocktake – what needs moving immediately, how will we sell it? How will staff pivot – who’s on deliveries, who’s on closing restaurant, what needs doing? What’s happening with staff, with leave, whose partner is also stood down and needs help? Kitchen crew – vac seal food. Save and store. Front of House – guests, phones, bookings, bar, create delivery schedules, update online orders, retail fridge, update COVID processes. Sales & Marketing – events, catering, promote new offerings. Take pictures, understand pricing, processes, communications, sell. Slow the hemorrhage. Owners: remain calm. Understand restrictions. Understand liabilities and legal responsibilities. Ensure compliance and communications to everyone are in line. Panic in the bathroom. Wonder how this will affect your family and then push it aside. Later.



Pandemic planning, pre mandatory mask

Pandemic planning, pre mandatory mask
There’s a certain kind of panic that comes from a Dan Andrews press conference that I think most in Victoria understand. The hospitality industry has been deep in its own experience of this. We have been holding on by a very thin thread.

Conducting serious business meetings online.


Conducting serious business meetings online.

The inspiring bit? When we came up with a take away Father’s Day box you guys bought it like we were serving up the last pork ribs on the planet. When we opened our doors you showed up in droves. You came through on your promises of support. You reached out to share your hopes for the future. Your care for and enjoyment of our restaurant. Jobkeeper saved our figurative lives. So did the state business grants. They gave us the breathing room to figure it out.

Father’s Day - let there be BBQ

Pivot. Red Gum At Home

Father’s Day – let there be BBQ


Pivot. Red Gum At Home

And there were endless lessons for us. Our dear Red Gum just had it’s 4th birthday at Arthurs Seat Road and to say it’s been a roller coaster would be an absurd underestimation. COVID showed up in year 3, just when we thought we were figuring things out and becoming more stable. It came around just in time to throw us headfirst into that next big challenge. In forecasting for 2020, we decided that we needed to aim higher than an 8% Net Profit line (as we had the previous year). We realised that if aimed here – if this was our GOAL – then we would set up everything to reach it and when we faltered, we would too easily fall into losses. And losses are just that. They’re not just numbers on a spreadsheet, but they’re someone’s job. They’re that thing we need to buy for the kitchen. The composting machine we can’t afford.  They have real life, important consequences.

So one of the lessons that COVID brought us was being even more clear on what we needed to survive. While your plumber charges you more on a weekend, your restaurant generally doesn’t. While the cost of our ethical choices rise, we need to ensure they’re built into our prices. At the start of February the Restaurant Industry Award released their updated rates. Everyone in our business got a CPI increase. On Saturdays our Casual staff earn between $32-$33/hr. On Sundays, they earn between $32-$38/hr. On Public Holidays they earn between $53-$55/hr. We’re not complaining about this. We believe that all staff, in all jobs, deserve a living wage and that our staff, in particular, are worth these dollars. We believe that we have a business and an industry that is rewarding and exciting and we want more people to see this work as a viable long term career path. But here’s the thing – you can’t pay $15 for a free range, pulled pork roll that’s been smoked for 12 hours and served by someone earning $35 an hour. And if you are, you should ask questions. There are corners being cut somewhere, you are being misled or the business isn’t going to be around next year.

Which brings me to this – as of 1 March, we’re implementing a 10% surcharge on all weekend purchases. This figure won’t cover these additional wages but it will go toward securing our future. And it’s a future we’re looking forward to. We want to secure jobs for our people. We want to broaden and deepen our ethical impacts. Do more and better. And to do so, we need to be profitable. This is not about lining pockets but is about having a sustainable, thriving and responsible business. This is not the only thing we’re doing and it’s not the end of how we’re future proofing ourselves. It’s a drop in the ocean but we know it may affect you and your purchasing decisions. We promise to continue sharing with you as we move along. And knowledge is power. We hope it informs the choices you make that are right for you and your family.

Moving forward we are expecting the unexpected. We’re digging in our heels, paying attention, responding and thinking about how we can weather the next storm. In whatever form it takes. We’re battered and bruised but still hopeful. We continue to love what we do. We continue to feel inspired by you. We continue to trust in the future that we’re building together. We continue to withstand Dan’s pressers. As long as there’s chili cheese fries nearby. And tissues.

Good luck to you, friends in whatever space of this you find yourself.. We know this is all kinds of hard for you all. 😘