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Chef's plea after 2022 trend threatens Aussie restaurants: 'It’s scary'

A chef come restaurant owner in Victoria has made an emotional appeal for support as the hospitality industry battles a situation she says is “more stressful than lockdown".

“Another fun week of cancellation,” Zoe Birch, one half of the husband and wife duo behind Greasy Zoes in Hurtsbridge, wrote on Instagram on Friday.

“Overnight half our restaurant bookings for the whole week cancelled.

“Gosh it’s a tough time to be a small business owner. I love food and I love this industry but some days just aren’t fun.

“If you are free this weekend, help us out and book online.”

Speaking to Yahoo News Australia this week, Ms Birch said she doesn’t usually give too much away but the issue has become too dire for her small “special occasions” venue which charges $175 per person for a set menu.

Zoe Birch and her husband (left) and the Instagram post (right)
Zoe Birch said she put her 'heart on her sleeve' when she took to social media on Friday to share her anguish at increased cancellations. Source: Instagram (Instagram)

“When we saw the amount of cancellations the other day it was just like, well we’re going to wear our heart on our sleeve and just ask people to book because we can’t just have 15 people for the week,” she said.

”It won’t pay our bills.

“We’re a tiny business, we seat 32 across the week [so] we depend on being full and if we get half the restaurant cancelled, oh it’s horrible.”

‘The cancellation year’

The restaurateur says after “hanging on” during lockdown, business was good for a while before things took a turn earlier this year.

“I think about March was when we started to get a lot of cancellations which we hadn’t really had before,” Ms Birch said.

“We were like, ‘okay this is odd but lots of people have got Covid,’ and then it just kept on happening and kept on happening.

“Now obviously there are a lot of people sick, not just with Covid, people are sick with everything, but I don’t think it’s just that.”

Instead Ms Birch believes that people are overbooking themselves.

She’s dubbed 2022 the “cancellation year.”

“Because we’ve been locked down for two years, everyone’s filling their calendars up,” she said, “and then getting knackered at the last minute and going, ‘actually I can’t be bothered going to that restaurant’.”

A woman preparing food
With the capacity to seat just 32 patrons each week, Ms Birch says cancellations mean they will struggle to pay their bills. Source: Instagram (Instagram)

20 per cent less bookings leaves ‘immense impact’

It’s a theory backed up by the Restaurant and Catering Industry Association of Australia.

“I’ve actually heard of this a lot where I guess it’s a pick and choose where multiple people will make a reservation and then on the night they’ll just decide where they want to go,” CEO Belinda Clarke told Yahoo News Australia.

“And then they’re often not letting the restaurant know what they want to cancel which is just not okay.

She claims that for many restaurants across the county, about 20 per cent of reservations are being cancelled or large bookings are turning up with less people.

“Both are having massive impacts because we know we’re short staffed so once restaurants have got the team ready, the kitchen’s full, the chefs are all prepped and ready to go and they get 20 percent less people turn up, it’s a massive impact to their bottom line.

“It’s affecting them immensely.

“Restaurants are just holding it together. They are just trying to survive. We don’t need to make it any harder for them.”

Diners in a restaurant (left) and chefs in the kitchen (right)
Several Sydney restaurants will charge patrons $100 if they cancel their reservation within 48 hours. Source: Instagram (Instagram)

Tougher cancellation policies

As the situation continues to worsen, many restaurants have taken matters into their own hands, implementing tougher cancellation procedures.

At Brae, a prestigious restaurant in regional Victoria, would-be-diners who cancel within seven days of their booking will lose $170 – 50 per cent of their pre-paid meal.

While several Merivale restaurants in Sydney will slug patrons the full $100 minimum deposit if they cancel within 48 hours of their reservation.

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