Back in business as eased rules bring people back

Cally Dupe and Caitlyn RintoulCountryman
Commerial Hotel Dowerin licensee Steve Parkin pours a jug.
Camera IconCommerial Hotel Dowerin licensee Steve Parkin pours a jug. Credit: Countryman, Cally Dupe

Beers were flowing and steaks were sizzling at country pubs on Monday, as WA’s hospitality sector had its first glimpse of life after COVID-19.

Commercial Hotel Dowerin licensee Steve Parkin was preparing the kegs when Countryman visited on Sunday, 24 hours before he opened to sit-down patrons.

The country pub is one of many in regional WA that has opened under WA’s phase two restrictions, which allow venues to trade with a 20-person limit.

The venue had been doing a steady trade of takeaway food and slabs of Emu Export since WA pubs and restaurants were limited to takeaway only on March 23.

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The most popular pick on the takeaway menu was pizza, followed by hamburgers and steak.

Mr Parkin and wife Sheree have been at the helm of the historic pub for 10 years and said it was a relief to be back in business.

Mr Parkin said hygiene was the top priority for staff and customers, with signs and brochures on social distancing, tables separated, and hand sanitiser available across the venue.

Mr Parkin said he would have to remind people not to sit at the bar — all diners must sit at tables — and to keep children 1.5m away from other guests.

“We have a lot of bookings this week, and have been asking people to call up and make sure they can get a seat,” he said.

“It is going to be a bit different, and all of our patrons will have to come to terms with the rules.

“They have to have a substantial meal — you can’t sit at the bar and just have a drink.

“We also have a 4sqm per person rule, which means some people may have to sit outside or in our extra dining room area.”

Heralding “some light at the end of the tunnel”, WA Premier Mark McGowan urged all West Australians to get behind small business owners whose revenue had been hit restrictions designed to curb the COVID-19 pandemic.

“One of the best things we can do is support each other through this pandemic and return to our favourite local cafe or restaurant,” he said.

It would normally be a busy time of year for the Commercial Hotel, which swells with patrons after country football matches played at the Dowerin Oval.

It will be a quieter-than-usual August as well, with this year’s Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days officially postponed because of COVID-19.

“The first couple of weeks were a bit different — we didn’t see anyone and the town was dead,” Mr Parkin said.

“The last eight weeks haven’t been too bad. We have had support from locals buying a lot of takeaway food.

“We only let two or three people come in to order, and most people have been placing their orders on the phone.”

Mr Parkin said it had been a worrying time for the small community, two hours east of Perth, and opening the regional borders had worried some.

“At least with the locals you know who they are — they go to Northam for shopping and that’s it,” he said.

The WA Government’s COVID- 19 safety plan for businesses had been downloaded 8800 times this week, a promising sign that many venues are preparing to make a go of trading despite lingering doubts over the viability of the 20-person limit and 4sqm rule.

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