Health and wellbeing

Going out in Sydney: how to plan for a safe and fun time

Tips to help when you visit your favourite venue - or try something new - and help keep you and your community safe

Green Square eating out

updated 20 October 2020

Venues have welcomed customers back through the door. But going out looks a bit different. And it will for the foreseeable future.

It’s extremely challenging for owners and employees to maintain good hygiene and safety, and monitor customer behaviour, all while providing their diners with a good experience.

It is now mandatory for dine-in venues such as cafes, restaurants, pubs, clubs to register their Covid safe plan with the NSW Government.

There are strict penalties for businesses who don’t comply with the rules.

But there are also many things you as a customer can do to help support local businesses and protect yourself and others.

First things first when you’re prepping to go out - take hand sanitiser, practice good hygiene and physical distancing, and don’t go out if you’re feeling unwell. Go get tested.

Keep in mind: it doesn’t matter how diligent a business is in keeping to their Covid safe plan. If just one guest turns up and then later tests positive for Covid-19, it can have a devastating impact on their business and potentially the rest of our community too.

Even if your symptoms are mild – like a scratchy throat or a mild sniffle – stay in, get tested and isolate.

Make a plan and book a spot

The days where you could decide to go out for dinner or drinks at the last minute and typically still nab a table are largely gone.

To help ensure you get a seat, make a booking at a restaurant or bar, particularly from Fridays to Sundays. The alternative is that you might have to queue for an indeterminate period or be turned away altogether.

With restrictions on overall capacity, you’ll find many restaurants with no prior reservation system now request people book a place.

Some venue opening times have also changed and this might not be reflected on their Google Business listing. You might need to call, look at their social media channels or website to check.

Good news for anyone planning a Christmas party: restrictions are being lifted by the NSW Government on group bookings. From Friday 23 October, restaurants, cafes and bars can also have 30 customers per booking, and 30 customers per table. Previously the rule was a maximum of 10.

The Vanguard in Newtown
The Vanguard in Newtown

Securing your booking

A venue may also ask you to pay a deposit or for your credit card details to secure a table. You may even have to pay in advance. Or you may find they are only doing set menus.

Please try not to be affronted or offended by this.

Restaurants are doing their best to stay afloat in difficult circumstances. Booking and paying a deposit can make a big difference in helping a business survive.

Despite some restrictions easing, many venues are still running at reduced capacity under public health orders. They can only have 1 customer per 4 square metres of space indoors. For small restaurants, that means a lot fewer patrons overall.

From Friday 16 October 2020, restaurants, cafes and bars with outdoor seating can now increase capacity. They can now have 1 person for every 2 square metres for outdoor areas.

Bookings and set menus help venues arrange adequate staffing and food, and avoid waste.

It’s also more important than ever to honour your reservation. If you can’t make it, call to let them know. Fully booked restaurants probably have a waitlist so they can fill the table if you don’t come.

Dining in? You must sign in

You’ll be asked to provide your contact details if you’re dining in.

And this isn’t optional or for marketing purposes - it’s the law.

Cafes, restaurants, bars, clubs and pubs, and a range of other venues, are required under public health orders to keep the contact details off all dine-in customers, staff and contractors for at least 28 days. Each person that attends a venue must provide their name and contact details.

It isn’t enough to just provide one name for a group. Records are only used for tracing Covid-19 infections and must be stored confidentially and securely.

If you can’t immediately see how to sign in, ask an employee about it.

It’s important that records at venues are accurate for quick contact tracing in case of a positive Covid-19 case. Everyone needs to play their part in making sure records are correct.

Signing in with a QR code

QR codes have been around for years, but the Covid-19 pandemic has seen them become more common. They look like a pixelated barcode.

Many venues use them to capture customer details or share menus. If you’ve never used one before, your smartphone can read the code.

For iPhone users with newer software, a special app isn’t required. An iPhone running iOS 11 or later has an in-built QR code reader. Just open up your phone camera app, point it at the code and your device will prompt you with what to do next.

If you have an older model iPhone or an Android phone, you’ll need to download a third-party app. Search your app store for a QR code reader. There are free ones available.

The venue can provide advice for signing in if you don’t have a smartphone.

Physical distancing signage at The Vanguard
Physical distancing signage at The Vanguard

Face masks at venues and on transport

You will see more and more hospitality workers wearing face masks.

This is due to advice from the NSW Government. They now strongly recommend mask wearing by staff who work in cafes, restaurants, pubs, clubs or other high-risk indoor areas, or those in customer-facing roles.

You should also wear a mask in situations where you cannot physically distance like on public transport. Taxi companies and ride-sharing services like Uber are also requesting that drivers and passengers now also wear masks in their vehicles

In some places, it may be a condition of entry that customers also wear masks.

Wearing a mask is one way to protect those around you. But the use of a mask and only a mask will not prevent infection.

You must also practice physical distancing, wash your hands, cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue and stay home when sick.

Had a good time? Consider leaving a positive review

How often do you leave a positive Google review for a business when you have had a great experience? Many people are only motivated to leave a review when they have a gripe or the business has prompted them. This means the reviews on Google might not adequately represent how loved a venue really is.

If you want to help Sydney’s dining and entertainment scene, share your amazing experience with the world.

If you didn’t have a great time, think about whether you need to air it publicly.

If you have a grievance about service, the best path is to talk to the manager before you go sharing on the internet.

Negative reviews or low star ratings can break a business. As businesses are working to adapt and incorporate new protocols and hygiene routines, it counts to be kind.

The Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food website has paused scoring reviews in a gesture of support for hospitality businesses during this time.

Covid-19 safety plans

You need to develop a Covid-19 safety plan if you’re running a café or restaurant. There is an existing plan or you can create your own.

Once you've completed and downloaded your safety plan, you can register your business as Covid safe.

Published 21 July 2020, updated 20 October 2020