As states look at easing restrictions, here’s how one owner sees bars reopening

Brisbane bar owner Martin Lange.

“The first week, or the first two weeks [that bars are open], everyone’s going to get pretty slammed,” says Brisbane bar owner Martin Lange. “But then after the second week people are going to say, ‘I have no money.'”

That’s how Lange, who owns Brisbane bars Savile Row, Cobbler, Death & Taxes, and Finney Isles, sees the initial reopening period taking place following the coronavirus shutdown.

Over the weekend, premiers in both Queensland and Western Australia began talk of easing restrictions on people gathering in response to low numbers of new cases of COVID-19. Western Australia is now allowing gatherings of up to 10 people either indoors or outdoors, however bars are to remain closed. Queensland is set to allow people greater movement — you can read more here — beginning from Friday this week, but again, no bars to reopen.

So whilst bars stay closed for now, it does appear that we’re on the slow path back to where reopening will become possible.

So what does the reopening process look like and how will it happen?

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“This question, how is it going to come back, is the same question that the banks are asking me,” says Lange. “How are you going to repay the loans once everything goes back to normal?

“I’ve got two plans: one, if [the shutdown] is only three months, it’s going to be easier. I reckon we can probably resume to 80 percent of trade. If it’s six months, it will take us probably another year to recover to full trade because I reckon the country is going to be completely broke.

“Once everything is open and back to normal, I don’t think people are going to have too much money to be honest,” he says.

Death & Taxes, Brisbane. Photo: Supplied

For Lange, the coronavirus shutdown means that he has had to rethink the way he runs his hiring policy.

“When we reopen we’re going to start with a skeleton crew and rehire people as we need,” says Lange. “My business model for all my businesses [has been] that every staff member is full time, I’ve never had casuals, so everyone gets a full wage.

“But we’re going to have to re-do the business model, and have like two full timers and put everybody else on casual. We just don’t know what’s going to happen, so we’re prepping for the worst case scenario.”

And Lange is conscious of the fact that it is likely that not every bar will make it through to the other side of this crisis.

“To be honest it’s going to be super tough, but it’s going to cleanse the industry a little bit,” he says. “It was getting a bit crazy in general, I think that whoever survives is going to come out stronger.”

But for those who do survive, he thinks that the public is going to have a little attitude readjustment.

“I think customers are going to be a lot more appreciative of what they’ve got, [and] how to behave in a bar. If this goes for three or four months, people are really going to appreciate what we do behind the bar,” Lange says.

And Lange believes that it is likely to change the way that staff view the industry and their jobs.

“I reckon it’s a good wakeup call to the new generation on how it is to not actually have a job and to be happy to have a job, you know what I mean?” he says.

“I don’t want to sound like that old person [but] I travelled the world; going into a country and just trying to find a job, and getting a job was like, fuck yeah. That stress of never being able to find a job wasn’t implemented in the new generation. It’ll be interesting to see how everybody behaves after this.”

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