Above: Team Worksmith, Melbourne
A few months ago, no-one had even heard of the bloomin’ ‘c’ word. Now it’s taken over all of our lives. While it’s forcing all of us to think, act and go about our day-to-day behaviour completely differently, there’s no denying that the hospitality industry is feeling it more than most. That’s employers as well as their employees.
The Hospitality Industry Covid-19 Support Facebook page was set up with this in mind. Created by Orlando Marzo, Beverage Director at Worksmith, a training and educational program for the hospitality industry in Melbourne, Australia, the group has set Facebook buzzing. We spoke to Orlando earlier this week to find out more about it.
First things first Orlando, when did you start the group?
Three days ago (Tuesday 17th March) and the response has been unbelievable. Here at Worksmith we have strong industry connections, but even so, by the end of the first day, we had 3,000 members. Right now, we’re at 7,000-plus, with people joining from all around the world.
We’re really impressed that people are finding the group useful and passing on details to their friends – that’s exactly what we wanted. And as a result, we’ve got people talking to government, looking into tax and employment, things like that, and hopefully, we’re getting to the bottom of some of the issues.
Above: Orlando Marzo
Obviously, we know why you set up the group but how did it come about?
We had a big meeting with the team on Tuesday and with the ‘grow hospitality together’ mentality we have here at Worksmith, we wanted to be a point of reference in the industry; a platform to discuss what’s going on in the world now.
Was it originally set up as a national or international initiative?
We started it to be at least Melbourne-based because of what we saw happening worldwide but the door was open to anyone from anywhere from day one. And it’s not just for bartenders and bar owners – anyone can join. It’s for the hospitality industry and relevant people like those in the property sector, law and government etc.
This is a platform for people who have experienced the effects of COVID-19 earlier than us, as well as those who will experience the problems further down the track. For example, I posted the tips from the team at Hope & Sesame in China that you published on your site. It was an important read as they’ve been through the worst of the virus two months ahead of the rest of the world, so it was crucial to have access to their insights.
What are the major topics being aired in the group right now?
Venue expenses and how operators look after their staff. Those are massive issues obviously, as the highest expense for any venue is the rent and payment of staff. At the moment there are negotiations being made with landlords as well as strategies about how to keep staff occupied while they’re on the payroll. The main thing is that by talking, sharing our thoughts and concerns in the group, we can work together and learn from each other about different strategies and ideas.
Any other issues?
One of the main issues, particularly for the bar and beverage industry, is that restaurants are offering takeaway services and going the extra mile with Deliveroo. But it’s not so straightforward for bars. Unfortunately, here in Australia, we’re not allowed to offer alcohol for takeaway purposes and there are very strict rules about bottled cocktails. There’s no way to get around this so bars have to come up with alternative survival strategies.*
The Worksmith team, Orlando Marzo, far right
Something I’m working on is partnering up with a chef for weekend aperitivo. The chef will be putting together four dishes for two or four people, or groups of friends and I’ll supply a bellini base and spritz cordial so that the guests can simply add their own booze. We’re looking to explore this further with suppliers who have a liquor license and food license and we’re also thinking of ways that we can include a voucher for guests to purchase their alcohol. It’s interesting because alcohol suppliers have the opposite problem – they can’t offer food if they do booze. It’s very easy to just drop it because it gets very tricky trying to work out the logistics. But it’s a case of using the resources that are already in place and synchronising these two things so we can make everything as easy as possible for our guests.
Do you think the laws in Australia will change given the current climate?
We need to continue to press for change because the message gets passed on and our grievances will be heard. But we also have to be realistic. While this is important to us, there are other things like hospitals, healthcare etc that will take priority. I hope it will move faster. But again, it’s about trying to be smart, using our resources and sources of communication. For instance, if you know there are people doing alcohol deliveries, talk to them about possible partnerships. As I mentioned before, bar owners can’t offer takeaway services here in Australia* but distilleries have manufacturing and distribution businesses and can collaborate with bars. So perhaps you can do a collaboration with your bar and a distillery? But putting that into practice takes time and it’s the logistics that might slow the process. During these times you just have to go for it otherwise it won’t happen. Those with the sharpest minds will survive.
What are the immediate things that all bar owners can do?
One of the things we can all do is use the time productively. For some bars, it can take three months to come up with a new cocktail menu, so why not get working on it now? And there are things like deep-cleaning the venue, or doing a detailed and very organised stock take – it’s really important to keep your mind occupied and keeping a positive morale. Obviously income is necessary. It’s hard to say but in this crisis there are opportunities. Take supermarkets for example. They all have staff shortages because people are going crazy stocking up. Do I want to be a supermarketer retailer? No. But do I want to help people and keep the economy going? Yes. In other words, you just have to keep thinking of what you can do to make the best of a bad situation.
Any other ideas?
Right now we need to forget about the politics and just focus on what we can do. When you embrace change, you’re smarter than anything the politicians say. This isn’t about politicians and what decisions have been made, it’s about making decisions ourselves. For instance, making the decision as to whether we close our venues or not… I personally think that I’ll be closing our venue because I don’t want the virus to affect our business. But that means I have to work harder to think where and how I generate money. The earlier you start making plans the more chance you have to succeed.
What’s next on the agenda?
We’ll be streaming a series of regular live webinars. The first one airs on Monday 23rd March at 6pm AEST. (7am GMT; 3am EDT; 3pm SGT; 12am PDT) and will feature Michael Pepi from Made Well Group and Worksmith, Tash Conte from Black Pearl, Luke Whearty from Byrdi and Dervilla McGowan from Anther Gin. We will be covering topics such as takeaway options for the bar industry, cost saving strategies, marketing communication plans and discussions with landlords and suppliers. This will be followed questions to the panel – wherever you are in the world.
These are very tragic times worldwide but hopefully this will enable us to learn and grow. It will open doors and our minds to something we’ve never experienced before and we’ll get to know each other better in the process, leading us to become better, stronger and more united than ever.
The ‘For Good Measure’ webinar will be streamed via Facebook Live at facebook.com/worksmith.io
*Since our interview there’s been an express response regarding liquor licensing in Australia: venues with an existing liquor license can now apply for an extension, allowing them to serve takeaway. Result!
Join the Hospitality Industry Covid-19 Support Facebook page to keep informed of more initiatives and share ideas.