NSW restaurants are slowly rising phoenix-like from the COVID ashes but we're a long way from business as usual.
JobKeeper, for all of its flaws and limitations, has kept employers connected to staff, and in some cases enabled them to trade through the "takeaway only" period.
Liam O'Brien, chef and owner of Charred Kitchen and Bar says "without it we wouldn't be able to keep the lights on".
Many venues have fallen by the wayside and a lot more are just hanging on by the skin of their teeth.
Those that are persevering are confronted by a radically changed business landscape.
Foreign Visa workers, who contribute massively to hospitality staffing, have gone home.
The price of raw materials has gone up and social distancing restrictions continue to inhibit income.
A looming recession suggests the customer base will have a lot less to spend at their favourite restaurants, bars and cafes.
Navigating these turbulent times will require a change in approach from both restaurateurs and customers.
If we want our favourite venues to flourish we'll need to be mindful of their situation.
Requiring credit card bookings or prepaid deposits are the only way some great places will survive.
"No-shows" are devastating for a business with limited capacity and tight margins.
A table reserved for a group of 12 people that arrives with only seven can be the difference between breaking even or not.
Overstaying your welcome can be just as problematic, as venues may need to turn tables over to other diners to make opening worthwhile.
Guests will need to show a little flexibility and accept that they occupy an available time slot, rather than demand a time of their choosing.
It's also important to bear in mind that staff have borne the biggest financial brunt of COVID.
Disturbing reports of hospitality staff copping abuse for enforcing distancing rules should remind us that they deserve a little understanding and kindness.
Alternatively restaurants will need to rethink their offering.
For too long we've tried to be everything to everyone, stretching to cover every possible price point and catering to an ever increasing list of fad diets and philosophical preferences.
It's not all doom and gloom here in Orange though.Richard Learmonth
The best restaurants will focus on providing a great quality experience they believe in and doing it extremely well at a price point it deserves.
The wage theft scandal that erupted earlier this year is still a very real problem.
Operators that can't survive without ripping off their staff shouldn't be competing with honest businesses.
JobKeeper has eased the load massively and as we're weaned off it, we'll have to make sure our model fits the market.
It's not all doom and gloom here in Orange though.
We have a resilient local economy, a loyal dining public, migration from the big cities, and an evolving list of well marketed tourist attractions.
We've already seen a surge in domestic tourism and with very little international travel over the next couple of years we can expect that to keep growing.
Charred is now busier than ever for this time of year says Mr O'Brien, and other venues such as the Union Bank Schoolhouse Restaurant are reopening to a grateful public.
If you haven't been quick enough to secure a booking yet, you needn't miss out on delicious seasonal cooking.
Rhubarb is terrific right now and there are still beautiful apples available at Thornbrook Orchard in Nashdale so I've combined the two for this week's winter warmer.
I like the nutty flavour of spelt but plain rolled oats will work just as well.
RECIPE OF THE WEEK
Rhubarb, Apple, Hazelnut and Spelt Crumble
FOR FRUIT MIX:
- 350g each x rhubarb stalks and peeled apples, cut into thumb-tip size pieces
- 75g x butter
- 150g x castor sugar
- 1 x cinnamon stick, toasted
- 1 x star anise
- 1t x ground ginger
- Melt butter and sugar in a wide bottomed pan.
- Add apple and spices and cook gently for five minutes.
- Add rhubarb and cook for a further 10 minutes or until softening.
- I like a little texture, not too jammy.
- 75g x brown sugar
- 1t x baking powder
- 1t x ground ginger
- 60g x cold butter
- 75g x plain flour
- 2T x spelt oats
- 40g x chopped Fourjay Farms Hazelnuts
- Grate butter into flour and oats with a box grater, rub in gently with hands, leaving pea sized lumps.
- Mix sugar, baking powder, ginger, and hazelnuts together.
- Toss flour and sugar mixture loosely together.
- Remove whole spices from fruit mix and spoon into an ovenproof dish.
- Scatter crumble topping over the fruit and bake at 200 degrees for 25 minutes.
- Enjoy with thick pouring cream or your favourite ice cream.
Richard Learmonth is a qualified chef and will be writing a food column for the Central Western Daily every second Saturday.
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