Irate restaurateurs and cafe owners gathered for a picnic-style "protest" in Parnell on the first evening Auckland went to alert level 3, step 2 to "show how stupid the rules are".
Under the relaxation of rules, retail shops can open with distancing and masks, and outdoor gatherings of up to 25 people from multiple bubbles are allowed. But restaurants and bars must remain closed.
Reza Sarkheil, who owns Rumi Persian Restaurant, said he organised the gathering at Heard Park on Wednesday evening to show "how stupid, absurd and ridiculous" the rules were.
Rumi has access to an outdoor courtyard seating, which it shares with steak and seafood restaurant Di Mare - but cannot operate there under current rules.
"If customers buy the food in takeaway containers and sit in the same outdoor spot, then it is considered okay. This is stupid and just doesn't make sense," Sarkheil said.
"How is allowing people in outdoor gatherings in groups of 25 with no requirements on distancing or mask wearing, like the gathering we are having tonight, safer than allowing restaurants to operate with outdoor seating service?"
Sarkheil said the lockdown cost him about $250,000 in revenue and potentially lost him about 25 Christmas and end-of-year events.
Others in the group of 15 who were at last night's gathering included the owners and operators of Di Mare, Une-Deux Cafe and also Cornelia - a new Parnell eatery that opened about a month ago in lockdown.
Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois said the rules were incredibly unfair to those in hospitality.
"The idea that people can be picnicking in groups of 25 in a public park or a back garden and yet outdoor dining for hospitality is not permitted is something we think is incredibly unfair on our industry," Bidois said.
"We have flagged this with the Covid Response Minister more than once who is yet to respond. The Prime Minister has also been questioned on this point and it would seem that this is an anomaly that public health officials have failed to provide guidance on."
Bidois said the association could not see any justification that dining outdoors in a hospitality venue is a higher risk than getting together with a group of friends outdoors.
Auckland Councillor Desley Simpson said the rules were also very confusing, but the council was working hard to try and interpret them as they are written.
Even when Auckland gets to the traffic light system, and dining outside will be allowed at eateries, there will still be an issue with toilet use because people aren't allowed indoors.
"We have found café and restaurant owners continually frustrated by what appears to them as being one rule for them, separate toilets, yet another allowing all council and public toilets open to all ie shopping malls," Simpson said.
"Bureaucratic bungling at its worst. But in essence the rules definitely aren't clear and are definitely seriously frustrating café and restaurant owners and operators who just want to open for business after days of forced closure."
Simpson said authorities should be helping these businesses to serve tables and "not putting in red tape that confuses, confounds and contradicts other rules and causes more stress and financial strain".
Calvin Cochran, spokesman for Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet Covid-19 group said hospitality businesses are urged to make sure they are operating within the rules.
"They need to follow the same rules as food courts in shopping malls. This means these businesses should offer contactless pick-up or delivery options only, and customers cannot consume food or drink on the premise even if the business has access to an outdoor garden space," Cochran said.
"If a restaurant is planning an outdoor picnic style dinner on their premise it would be in breach of the alert level 3.2 rules."
Cochran said it would be fine for customers to take food away and consume in an outdoor space like a public park.