Restriction friction

COVID-19 restrictions have forced the staff at Miller + Baker to deal with increasingly aggressive patrons. Photo: Isabella Corbett.

COVID-19 restrictions have eased across Western Australia as of today but event promoters and some small businesses say the new rules won’t provide enough tangible benefits. 

Among the new guidelines, restaurants, cafes, bars, nightclubs and convention centres can host up to 500 patrons while maintaining the 2sq m rule. Businesses such as gyms, entertainment venues and museums will keep the 2sq m rule but have no capacity limit. 

Good Times event promoter Dylan Hindle says the easing of restrictions will help but the rules will hinder future events’ profitability. 

“Typically the events we put on at Good Times are at large, established venues with outdoor spaces and as far as I understand we will be limited to 500 patrons,” he says. 

“If we’re selling 500 tickets at $25 a pop it’s not going to generate enough return to pay all our suppliers and then make a good enough margin for it to be a profitable event that’s worth putting on.

“There’s definitely still concern there.”

Although events are allowed under Western Australia’s new COVID-19 rules, event promoters like Dylan Hindle say planning them doesn’t come without risk. Photo: Isabella Corbett.

Events with more than 500 patrons can go ahead but organisers must register the event with the Department of Health. 

SafeWA will take a backseat, with customers only needing to check in at venues with proof-of-vaccination requirements. 

Some restrictions remain the same, including mask-wearing and hospital, aged and disability care visitor rules.

Although event promoters can find financial respite in state government-funded support packages such as Getting the Show Back on the Road+, the process to apply for them can be complex.

According to the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries applicants must substantiate their loss based on actual, rather than projected ticket sales.

But Mr Hindle says the current COVID-19 climate means patrons are hesitant to buy tickets in advance. 

“People won’t buy tickets until the last minute because the event may be cancelled,” he says. 

“If all your ticket sales come in the week before the event but it gets cancelled a few weeks out, you may have only sold 200 tickets when in reality you would have sold 800.

“By losing three to four events, in terms of ticket revenue and the profitability of the business, we’re looking at $80,000-90,000 in lost income that’s shared between the event promoters, suppliers and other people we’d engage, such as door people, artists and production, sound and lighting companies.”

Dylan Hindle

For some small businesses such as Perth bakery Miller + Baker, the financial strain associated with COVID-19 restrictions isn’t as dire. 

Sandwich section manager Levi Lothian says his section alone has doubled in profit in the last few weeks because people are getting takeaway lunches.

Miller + Baker sandwich section manager Levi Lothian says the new COVID-19 restrictions won’t impact his business. Photo: Isabella Corbett.

But the business has been forced to reconcile increased revenue with escalating hostility among patrons, with some resorting to violence. 

“One of our front-of-house guys asked a customer to put their mask on while they stood in the door,” he says.

“The customer asked him to come a little bit closer and clocked him.

“It’s been intense.”

As well as mask requirements, Mr Lothian says the primary pain points among patrons include showing their proof of vaccination to dine in, checking into the bakery and not being able to use reusable cups. 

“Because we’re such a small team, if any of us get COVID, we’ll need to close the business,” he says. 

“To protect ourselves and minimise handling, we’ve stopped providing dining plates and cutlery, as well as accepting reusable cups.

“Customers ask why we don’t want to protect the environment but it’s not really our choice. We need to protect ourselves.”

Miller + Baker has introduced compostable cups to alleviate eco-conscious patrons’ concerns. Photo: Isabella Corbett.

According to Mr Lothian, the easing of restrictions won’t help small businesses like Miller + Baker. 

“It’s not going to matter at all to us,” he says. 

“If the new restrictions bring a change in public perception, it may make some of our customers ease up a little.

“But the things they’re most angry about — mask requirements, checking in — are still up and running.”

University of Western Australia School of Population and Global Health senior lecturer Barbara Nattabi says whether the state has reached its COVID-19 peak or not is irrelevant when it comes to the new rules.

“We shouldn’t be worried about numbers because people are going to get it,” Dr Nattabi says.

“Both vaccinated and unvaccinated people will fall sick. We need to keep our eyes on the number of hospitalisations, ICU patients and deaths so our hospitals don’t become overrun.

“The point of whether restrictions should ease or not is neither here nor there.”