Would you like 'red tape' with your steak and chips?
That's the prospect facing Auckland restaurants and diners as they contemplate more outdoor dining under level 2 Covid restrictions heading into summer.
It follows a call from Auckland councillor Richard Hills for restaurants, cafes and bars to spread outdoors as seen in European cities.
"Especially if businesses ask for it, we should make it happen," Hills wrote on social media.
Standing in the way, however, is red tape in the form of rules and regulations overseen by Auckland Council, the Ministry of Health and the police.
Emma Rogan, who with her husband Stu, own the award-winning Hello Beasty restaurant at the Viaduct Harbour, said the opportunity for outdoor dining could be so exciting over summer under tight operating restrictions.
She is calling on the council to jump on board more outdoor dining and work alongside dining precincts and restaurants to get through the coming weeks and months.
"We will grind our businesses to a halt if we have to and comply, and we don't argue with that because this is a really scary world we are in, but as we start to open up again what can our city do to help us?" she said.
The Rogans would like to expand the 80-seat restaurant outdoors into Market Square, which was used for pop-ups last summer, but worry about getting bogged down in red tape obtaining a liquor license.
Emma Rogan said getting a liquor license can take weeks, if not months - and wants an easy to apply, streamlined decision-making process that takes no longer than a week.
"Then once live, monitor with us as we go. Businesses are good at adapting," she said.
Samantha Saxton-Beer, marketing and brand manager for Viaduct Harbour Holdings, said some fast and flexible trading alternatives are urgently required from the council and the Government for alcohol licensing and the number of people allowed in restaurants.
"Reconnecting our hospitality workers with their craft and customers seems more important now than ever," she said.
The red tape comes as no surprise to one of the city's most colourful restaurateurs and mayoral candidate, Leo Molloy, who owns Headquarters bar and restaurant in the Viaduct Harbour.
"Think European, Italian, white table cloths," says Molloy, who wants to see a bit of creativity when hospitality hotspots like the Viaduct Harbour, Britomart, Ponsonby Rd and Karangahape Rd reopen for indoor and outdoor service under level 2 restrictions, and could remain there for some time.
Molloy was one of a small number of restaurant owners at a Zoom meeting with Small Business Minister Stuart Nash last week to discuss the dire impact of restrictions on the Auckland dining scene.
Under the Covid rules for level 2, restaurants are limited to having no more than 100 people within an indoor or outdoor space and must provide separate entrances for bathrooms.
What's more, if restaurateurs want to expand outdoors they will need an extension to their liquor license.
Molloy put forward some changes to Nash, which he believes will address the health restrictions and improve the economic viability of restaurants.
They included getting rid of the "ridiculous" 100 person limit and replace it with a limit of 40 per cent permitted under the fire rating that applies to restaurants.
He also wants opening hours extended by two hours, which occurred for the Rugby World Cup in 2011; and fast-tracking the cumbersome process to extend liquor licences.
Nash said it is clear that hospitality in Auckland is one of the groups that has been hit hard by alert level restrictions.
The Government, he said, has already given significant relief to the hospitality industry through the wage subsidy, the resurgence payment and the zero-interest small business cash flow loans and will continue to keep the response under review.
Nash said nothing about cutting red tape to help struggling Auckland restaurants.
Auckland Council is fast-tracking street trading licenses and extensions to food-only dining applications, not charging application fees and looking to extend the period for paying rental fees associated with licenses.
But regulatory committee chairwoman Linda Cooper said the council is constrained when it comes to extending liquor licenses.
"We expect some delay from both the police and Medical Officer of Health who have reporting responsibility for alcohol licensing applications. Both parties are heavily involved in the Covid response, and the Government has extended the period in which these agencies have to report on all alcohol licence applications," she said.
A Ministry of Health spokesman said the alert level settings and respective measures, including those in Auckland, will be reviewed by Cabinet on Monday and it would be "hypothetical" to comment on the rules for extending outdoor liquor licenses and bathrooms at this stage.
A police spokesperson said when it comes to liquor licenses "we will work through our part of the process as quickly as we can".
Hills said his idea was to make it as easy as possible for people to use outdoor spaces and businesses to survive with appropriate health restrictions, but it looked like it would only work for cafes and people who are not drinking.
"What seemed like what is easy for other cities around the world is a bit cumbersome for us," he said.
Hospitality NZ's Auckland president Jamie Freeman said extending outdoor dining for food-only options is highly unlikely because it would be too onerous to manage and just cause confusion for customers and operators.
"The Ministry of Health and the police should appreciate that if they oppose temporary extensions of outside areas they could cost the livelihoods of staff and hospitality owners. Delta alert level 2.5 settings for hospitality are highly restrictive and are putting livelihoods on the line," Freeman said.
Nick Mills, whose family owns eight hospitality businesses in Wellington, said trading under level 2 is no saviour for food, restaurant places that need the council, police and everyone else to work hard to make things happen overnight.
He said takings at his Sports Cafe for last Saturday's test match between the All Blacks and Springboks would normally be $10,000 to $15,000.
"We took $1200. It makes me cry just to think about it," said Mills.