Pubs and bars are reporting a sluggish first day back after the lockdown, with the fear of going out, or perhaps the joy of staying home, thought to be a reason for the low numbers.
Venues that primarily serve alcohol had to wait a week longer than other businesses to invite customers back because of the extra risks they’re thought to pose.
In order to open they have to limit the number of people allowed in, keep customers seated and adhere to strict social distancing and contact-tracing rules.
Old mates Oscar and Schwiney had a lot of catching up to do over a beer at Chapel Bar & Bistro in Auckland’s Ponsonby.
“To be able to interact with other people, be reasonably close to them and, even better, be on the piss is just wonderful,” said Oscar, who didn’t want to give his last name.
“I came back from Japan and had to isolate a week before everyone else went into lockdown, so I’ve been on my own for literally two months,” Schwiney said.
He added: “You do miss your friends – a lot – and it’s really important to see that they’re well and catch up. I think for a guy that’s on his own it’s really important to have that connection, you know?”
Just down the road at Longroom, RNZ bumped into comedian and broadcaster Melanie Bracewell, who came to global attention during the lockdown for her uncanny impersonations of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
“I have been seeing people shaking hands and kissing cheeks and I’m like, ‘I’m not there yet’,” she said.
“I’ll be with people that I know quite well [so] I’ll know how to track myself back to them, but I cannot see myself, you know, grinding at someone in the club for a long time.
“I think people will be out there going, ‘Okay, I can go have a drink at a bar, this is something we can feel like we’re supporting local businesses and we’re still being as safe as possible’.”
One of Longroom’s owners, Richard Bagnall, said being closed the extra week was really tough, but he was thrilled to have people back and enjoying themselves again .
He said this weekend would be the real litmus test.
“The fact that we’ve been given a slow path back to normality has probably put us on the back foot a little bit but, you know, we’re excited to be open and our staff are excited to be engaged with customers again.
“We’re just hoping more customers – as they work through their own interpretation of what’s happening – they kind of get out and come and join us.
“We’ve provided an environment that’s Covid-safe, we’ve got all the policies, procedures and guidelines in place just to make it a safe environment.”
At Father Ted’s in the CBD, manager Sue Whelan was happy to be open, but the 53 seats they’re allowed still aren’t full.
“Yeah, people in and out, few people just in for drinks and stuff,” she said. “Everyone’s been polite, everyone’s been very calm and kind and they’ve been patient which is good because it’s table service so it’s a lot slower, the service, but everyone’s been patient.”
In Wellington, bar and club owner Matt McLaughlin from Hospitality New Zealand said they had to turn a few people away to maintain distancing, and while they had all the customers they could cope with it was still not like pre-Covid times.
“Much quieter. Much, much quieter. There’s people walking up and down the streets, so there are people out there, but while we still have no pre-show dinners, concerts on, or people going to the movies – and obviously there are a lot less people that are commuting to and from, say, Mt Vic.
“There’s a few people milling around now but certainly not as busy as a standard night that we’re used to.”
Wellington’s Courtenay Place will be closed to traffic on Friday and Saturday night from 10pm to 4am to give people more room to keep their distance from fellow revellers.