High-profile restaurateur Al Brown says he is reluctant to reopen his restaurants while social distancing rules are still in effect, instead holding out until the virus has been eradicated.

"For me personally, I'd rather keep the restaurants closed until we can open them up as restaurants," he told BusinessDesk.

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"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."

The celebrity chef said social distancing wouldn't work in restaurants open under alert level 3. Photo / Greg Bowker
The celebrity chef said social distancing wouldn't work in restaurants open under alert level 3. Photo / Greg Bowker

Brown said he doubted it would make financial sense to change a restaurant's business model for a period that could only last weeks.

"I certainly think we have to look at ideas to keep the wheels turning, but you don't want to change your whole model when it looks like we are going in the right direction in getting rid of this thing," he said.

"I'm just hoping that we are doing such a good job of wiping this thing out that these questions will only be relevant for the next month."

Brown owns three Auckland restaurants: American-style diner Federal Deli, cafe-eatery Best Ugly Bagels and the more fine-dining Depot. While he said Federal Deli and Best Ugly Bagels both had some menu items that could be sold as takeaway, Depot didn't.

The hospitality industry has warned some businesses may not be able to reopen at alert level 3 because the revenue generated from takeaways and non-alcoholic beverages won't cover their costs.

And many landlords who have given tenants rent relief during alert level 4 will expect rent payments to resume once the lockdown is eased. This will add pressure on some in the industry who may escape the frying pan only to land in the fire.

Because many businesses rely on alcohol sales to add profit margin to their menu, the hospitality industry has petitioned government to temporarily allow those with a current on-licence to apply for emergency off-licences, enabling them to sell takeaway alcohol.

Brown said while much restaurant revenue came from serving drinks, offering a takeaway bottle of wine was unlikely to pull much extra money through the till.


"If we can create a beautiful duck casserole and serve it with a beautiful pinot noir from Central Otago, then that might be a package that we can benefit from. But most people are going to realise they can get a bottle of wine cheaper in the supermarket," he said.

While the hospitality industry waits for guidelines on level 3, the Restaurant Association hopes government will let businesses resume selling takeaways and home delivery.

Association chief executive Marisa Bidois said off-licensing would offer another product for businesses trying to stay afloat.

"We know it is unrealistic to think that all of our stores will have their shopfronts open and everyone dining again," she said.

"But the more businesses that we can have starting to open up, that is going to be better than having no businesses at all."

PM Jacinda Ardern teases details of NZ under alert level 3 on Mike Hosking Breakfast. Video / Newstalk ZB

Bidois said although the tight controls of level 3 meant it would remain a difficult period for hospitality businesses, she still supported the government's decision to keep restrictions tight.


This has been demonstrated by the resurgence of Covid-19 cases in China which reported 108 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, Bidois said.

"From my perspective we need to take things one step at a time, because this is such an unknown we need to tread carefully."

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website