The kitchens may be closed and the chefs' knives sheathed, but blood is being shed in Auckland's restaurant scene. To the groans of lousy cooks across the nation, New Zealand's level 4 lockdown on March 26 abruptly snuffed out the country's entire hospitality industry. No essential services exemption was provided to either the McDonald's drive-through or the white tablecloths of Auckland's fine dining waterfront. Millions of dollars are being lost despite wage subsidies. Yet the prospect of a possible level 3 let-up this Thursday has Auckland's best restaurants looking to cater once again via polystyrene packages and waiters on electric scooters.
Lucien Law is fairly sure the gently seared flesh of Te Mata lamb, bred in the Canterbury high country, has never been served in a takeaway package.
The owner of 10 prominent Auckland restaurants, including Britomart's Ostro and Ponsonby's Azabu, says this is what New Zealanders can expect next week if the Prime Minister's talk of a level 3 downgrade comes to fruition.
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"Level 3 will be interesting. We'll take it day by day as to what the Government allows us to do, I guess," Law says.
"Delivery yes, maybe some pick-up if we can. We're getting ready for that in paperwork and online and thinking about possible menus, and that can be quite positive.
"But will level 3 allow that? I assume it will - but we certainly don't think we'll be operating a restaurant like we have, with the sort of revenue and turnover that we were previously doing."
Law says the Savor Group, of which he is managing director, will "move quickly" to implement delivery and pick-up across all its venues: Ostro, Green Room, Matisse, Tommy's Champagne Parlour, Seven, Ebisu, Azabu, Fukuko, Non Solo Pizza.
It had briefly tried Uber Eats at Ebisu, but the 30 per cent take which the delivery company takes made Law drop it. He says he'll now probably have to suck it up.
"If we can pick a positive from this, getting things delivered to your door of a high quality, your fruit and veg, restaurant quality, all those things that are coming to my house now, it's fantastic," Law says.
"So accessing those suppliers directly, I think that's a change."
Law says because he has an off-licence at Ostro he is urging the Government to allow him to sell booze under level 3.
Auckland chef Sid Sahrawat and his wife, Chandni, own renowned modern Indian restaurants Sidart, in Ponsonby, and Cassia in the city centre.
They, too, expect they will be able to provide contactless takeaways and delivery at level 3, and say they are already creating online ordering and reducing their menus.
"Current front-of-house staff will be redeployed as delivery staff," Chandni says.
"We will not be using a delivery partner or external third-party apps. We still want our loyal guests to have the personal connection and care that we are known for."
The Sahrawats have also come to a business arrangement to be supplied with hire NZ Flamingo scooters for short-distance deliveries.
For longer destinations, both Sid and Chandni Sahrawat are considering using their cars to personally deliver meals.
Guests can expect a shorter menu from Cassia, and Sidart will offer five choices each day served with pull-apart bread and a dessert.
The French Cafe in Eden Terrace, which the Sahrawats also own, will offer guests an interpretation of classic French dishes, with house-made sourdough and dessert.
However, for Sid Sahrawat, the motivation to reopen on level 3 is not primarily financial.
"Takeaways and deliveries will not be making us a lot of money, nothing even close to what the restaurants made before Covid-19," he says.
"Starting takeaways and deliveries in level 3 is not a decision we have made lightly but we feel if we can safely do it, then we should.
"It's not about money but supporting our local suppliers who can't service supermarkets, as their businesses are geared to support hospitality. It is about reconnecting with our guests when they can't come to us.
Nourish Group owner Richard Sigley runs 15 restaurants across New Zealand, including the popular 300-plus seat Soul Bar in Auckland's Viaduct.
Sigley says Nourish has already tried a My Food Bag-type, home-delivery ingredient service for 10 of their loyal customers this week, in preparation for level 3. It was "received well".
He is hopeful such delivery options can replicate the 40 per cent of revenue which some New York restaurants have reported doing from their lockdown delivery alone.
"That will be great, but it still won't cover costs, because we work on slim margins in the restaurant game so there will be a lot of bleeding going on," Sigley says.
All the restaurateurs the Herald spoke to said they were using the Government's wage subsidy to pay their employees during the lockdown.
The businesses' owners cited the subsidy as helping them stay afloat during the past three weeks with zero revenue coming in. Although for Sigley's 500-odd staff it was not as comprehensive as for others.
"Look, it's helped, but we had to top it up by in excess of a quarter-of-a-million bucks," Sigley said.
"But that's probably going to change. We just can't afford to spend that kind of money every month. You know we've got to protect our balance.
"We paid all of our staff 80 per cent [of their regular wage] for the first month, which cost us a couple of hundred grand.
"So we won't get that back, but I'm just trying to do the right thing by all my staff really and make sure they've got a job to come back to in the next four to five weeks."
Sigley said the Nourish Group had "easily" suffered more than $1 million in losses in the past month and even the prospect of returning to level 2 restrictions was not entirely reassuring.
"At level 2 we were haemorrhaging, your social distancing and mass gatherings of 10 or more not being allowed in your restaurants," Sigley says.
"You think about Soul, at a busy lunch we do 300-plus. So even at alert level 2 we're going to struggle and I think what we really need to focus on is eradicating this virus and New Zealand turning into its own little bubble so people can go out and start enjoying themselves."
However, not all of Sigley's restaurants are assured to reopen once restrictions are reduced to level 2.
"Soul will reopen as soon as we can because it's a big beast and it costs us a lot to run," Sigley said of the 80-staff restaurant.
"I've got the Jervois Steak House in Queenstown, which doesn't have as many staff, but is heavily reliant on tourism and we won't have any tourism so that may stay shut for a longer period. It's just case by case, you know.
"Queenstown's just been decimated by this and will be for a long time because of the travel restrictions."
Sigley's Nourish Group restaurants include Andiamo, Euro, Coley & Punch, The Culpeper, Jervois Steak House in Auckland and Queenstown, Bistro Lago, The Brit, Pravda Cafe and Grill, Shed 5, Talulah, The Chamberlain, The Crab Shack in Wellington and Auckland, and Soul Bar.
Another unrelenting cost for restaurateurs, which many small business owners feel the Government has not sufficiently offered a lifeline on as with wages, is commercial rent.
For Sigley, payments across his restaurants are in a constant state of negotiation.
"Some landlords are playing ball. We've still got costs. But some landlords have been absolutely fantastic and others, I won't say what I'm thinking about them," he says.
Lucien Law said rent made up 10 to 12 per cent of his costs, and the leniency of his landlords required day-to-day communication.
"I've got a great landlord in Ponsonby in Azabu, I've got a fantastic landlord at Sanfords who said, 'Let's forego rent until the Government says you can go back in there'," he says.
"How long can everyone go like that I'm not sure but in the first instance there's not much more you can ask for.
"It doesn't matter if you're a ma and pa business, or you've got multiple restaurants, it's expensive to keep something mothballed."
The owner of Ponsonby restaurant SPQR for more than two decades, Chris Rupe, says as long as the Government keeps paying his staff during lockdown he "doesn't have to make anyone redundant".
Rupe, too, is looking to extend his usual Uber Eats service past its 7pm cut-off once level 3 is in place, and have a pick-up service also.
Previously, Uber eats had only been 15 per cent of his take but he's optimistic that will increase.
"I think it's really more about servicing the public and giving something back. I don't think it's going to make huge amounts but at least it lifts your profile, keeps you going," Rupe says.
His mind is already on how he will orchestrate a level 2 restaurant.
"I think you have to reopen with restriction and supervision. People can't just walk in," Rupe says.
"I'm not sure yet where the Privacy Act stands but people will be tested with an infrared thermometer, and that way everyone that comes in knows everyone else is safe.
"Obviously, you've got to have photos of all the staff that have got face masks on and gloves to reassure everyone that they're coming to a safe environment."
High-profile Auckland restaurateur Al Brown was less ambitious, and says he is reluctant to reopen his restaurants while social distancing rules are still in effect.
Brown owns three Auckland restaurants: American-style diner Federal Deli, cafe-eatery Best Ugly Bagels and the finer-dining Depot.
"For me personally, I'd rather keep the restaurants closed until we can open them up as restaurants," he said.
"Having empty tables kills the vibe of the restaurants and social distancing doesn't work for wait staff who have to bring food to tables, or for chefs working in a small kitchen."
Yet, for the most part, the motto repeated from longstanding Auckland restaurateurs was one of their staff's resilience.
"I know that hospitality will exist going forward," Law says.
"It survives every global financial crisis, every crash. Every time they're there at the end, and the industries boomed. It's an interaction, it's something that people enjoy and it ain't going anywhere.
"There's very few positives to take out of this crisis, but, if anything, it's reaffirmed to us as restaurants and bar owners that we do more than exist to deliver food and drinks.
"When we're at our best we are a place to connect, we're a place to celebrate."