An Auckland restaurant owner is backing his private picnic booking system, believing he's "not breaking any laws", and said authorities should call him if there's a problem.
A group of up to 10 people can book the outdoor garden space at Midnight Gardener on Ponsonby Rd for two hours at a cost of $100, but they have to bring their own food and beverages.
It's a new initiative owner Luke Dallow launched after the Government announced that Aucklanders were allowed to meet with at least one other household outdoors from Wednesday. It's the first phase of three that will be rolled out to ease alert level 3 restrictions on the city.
Dallow has already received 18 bookings, and had two groups use the space yesterday.
He said it has proven to be popular among young families, "cooped up" apartment dwellers who want more space but also privacy, and people celebrating a birthday or special occasion.
Patrons can bring their own dogs, music and even have food orders delivered if they do not want to bring their own.
But the Covid-19 Group, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) said: "customers should not be entering a business premise to consume food, regardless of whether they are seated indoors or outdoors, or if they are bringing their own food".
"While Step 1 allows increased opportunities for outdoor recreation, it is not intended that this changes the alert level 3 guidance around business operations," a spokesperson told the Herald.
"The current Health Order states that businesses 'must have systems and processes in place to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that no customers or clients enter the workplace except to the minimum extent necessary to collect goods'.
"While some restrictions are easing, we are encouraging people to use this time to reconnect with close friends and whānau outdoors, in small numbers."
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Dallow said if the Government has a problem with his private picnic booking system, they should call him.
"Give me a call, have a look at my bank balance. I'm sorry I'm suffering."
He said he "doesn't want to get into trouble" but just wants to "help out people who need it".
"People are totally safe. There's a sign outside saying it's a private picnic venue, I don't want to break the law.
"A smile is what we need at the moment, we need positive safety."
He said patrons using the private picnic area have to scan in and answer a questionnaire about whether they have Covid-19 symptoms, but he has not made it mandatory for them to be fully vaccinated.
After each booking Dallow said he allows an hour for deep cleaning of the outdoor area and bathroom facilities, based on advice from the Ministry of Health. No one will enter the indoor premises, he said.
He told the Herald he's not concerned about contracting the virus because he is double vaccinated.
Dallow is continuing to accept bookings between noon and 11pm every day until Auckland moves into alert level 2.
He said even with level 3 restrictions allowing for contactless takeaway meal pick-ups only, the Midnight Gardener business has "barely broken even".
The Ponsonby Business Association said it is aware of businesses across Auckland "taking a creative approach" following the announcement of loosening Covid-19 restrictions.
"This is indicative of a sector under pressure and struggling with a lack of Government assistance, and we fully appreciate the lengths they are willing to go to avoid closure," it said in a statement.
"We are working closely with Auckland Council to establish ways of extending dining areas to outdoor spaces once we have reached alert level 2."