The sun is shining, spring has sprung and here in Canberra it feels, well, normal. You can sink a pint at the pub, hang out in the corner of your local cafe, and have a sit-down dinner on Saturday night.
But although it may feel like we've returned to bakeries, bars and business-as-usual, if you look a little closer you'll notice that we still have a long way to go. With "reserved for social distancing" signs on every other table, and friends in Melbourne who would jump at the chance for a dine-in flat white, now is not the time to take our cafes, restaurants and bars for granted.
So here are a few tips from a long-time hospo worker to help you ensure your local is still around to sling shots long after this pandemic is over.
The first one is easy: see those big dots on the floor? Notice how they're spaced about 1.5 metres apart? Good. Stand there, and we can serve you. The odd few customers have taken to complaining about the "nazis behind the bar", but I promise you nobody is relishing the power trip that comes with enforcing COVID-19 restrictions.
Constantly reminding customers to "please follow the rules" is, quite frankly, exhausting. A lot of your bartenders have spent far too long at the end of the Centrelink telephone queue this year, and are in no hurry to repeat the experience. In order for us to stay happy, healthy and open for business, we need everyone to keep to their socially distanced dots.
Last month, Kingston wine bar Muse posted on Twitter that 11 people had failed to show up to bookings in a single day. That was a quarter of the bar's seats sitting empty, waiting for people who never came. So, here's my second piece of advice: please don't ghost us (this is also good advice for those on dating apps, but that's another rant for another time).
I don't know about you, but my phone is basically an extension of my arm at this point. So it shouldn't be hard to call and let the restaurant know if you're not going to make it. Chances are, there are people on a waiting list who would love to take your place.
And if you are lucky enough to get a coveted seat at your favourite establishment, make sure you are worthy of the honour. By that I mean: don't be stingy. Gone are the days when you could rent yourself a temporary study space for the morning with a single flat white. Support the business and treat yourself to a meal, or at least a danish to go with that coffee. Go on, you've earned it.
Having said that, if you're sitting in a bar, a two-hour booking should not be a challenge to drink yourself under the table. Pints of craft beer are much stronger than the tinnies you've been drinking at home, and responsible service of alcohol is still the law. Grab yourself some hot chips, pace yourself, and stay in the good books of your local publican.
The "pivot" has been a defining business strategy this year, with cafes becoming grocers, restaurants selling pre-portioned meals for you to finish at home, and pubs introducing the word "growler" to your culinary vocabulary. And although the doors have opened once again, don't forget that many places still have their "pivoted" products available for sale. Grab a sandwich for later, take home a six-pack from your local craft brewery, and stick some pierogi in the freezer for a rainy day. You won't regret it, and for a small business it will make a big difference.
It's been a stressful and uncertain year, and the best thing we can do is take care of ourselves and support each other. So go on, pop out and buy a takeaway dinner for you and a friend. It won't cure COVID-19, but it surely can't hurt.
- Lucy Ridge is a freelance writer, qualified chef and born-and-bred Canberran.