A renewed appetite for outdoor dining in Ballarat | ourballarat Summer 2021-22

Ballarat’s hospitality sector has embraced change to service through COVID-19, with many businesses making the move outdoors.

An outdoor dining table on Armstrong Street

New Ballarat business owner Vicki McGuigan took over Studio g.a.s. in July 2020, and quickly realised that having a café attached to her retail fashion and gift business was a huge drawcard that would allow her to keep trading through COVID-19.

When the City of Ballarat sought expressions of interest from the hospitality sector to have new outdoor dining infrastructure installed on the footpaths outside their premises, Vicki saw an opportunity to grow her business.

“We were already offering indoor and outdoor dining options but it gets very windy in Ballarat.

“The bonus of having wind barriers has created an outdoor space that is both functional and appealing for our customers and is assisting the business to thrive in the current climate,” she says.

Studio g.a.s. was one of more than 40 initial cafes and restaurants to have permanent wind barriers installed over spring through funding provided to the City of Ballarat from the State Government’s outdoor eating and hospitality package.

To ensure the funds would be spent to support the needs of businesses, the City of Ballarat’s Economic Development team spoke with business owners to understand their challenges and discovered that indeed the weather – specifically wind – is the greatest impediment to outdoor dining in Ballarat.

“This was a really pleasing and crucial aspect of our role for staff to work alongside hospitality providers to fine-tune what worked for them and their businesses to extend or improve their dining footprint,” Director Development and Growth Natalie Robertson says.

“Ballarat residents overwhelming supported temporary dining hubs trialled in Ballarat’s CBD last summer and expressed their liking of outdoor dining options that are aesthetically pleasing, provide protection from the weather and incorporate greenery.

“These new spaces, supported by wind barriers and umbrella sockets, deliver on these values.”

For Rick Collins and his partner Lucy Nguyen, owner/operators of Saigon Allee, the new infrastructure allows 10 more customers to be seated outside their popular Armstrong Street Vietnamese restaurant.

The couple trialled one of the outdoor glass dining pods and experienced the difference it made to their business, expanding their patronage while operating within COVID-19 density levels.

“We have a courtyard attached to our restaurant but this outdoor option at the front of our business is proving really good for us – to have umbrellas and wind barriers that allow people to sit outside comfortably and experience Armstrong Street by day and night,” Rick says.

He believes the changing landscape of the inner city Armstrong Street dining strip is key to keeping and enticing new customers to the CBD.

“When visitors see people sitting outside to dine, it encourages them to come into the precinct, creating a lively atmosphere that benefits everyone.”

Rick has spent nearly five years in the restaurant business, almost two of those interrupted by COVID-19 restrictions.

“We are very lucky to have such great staff and loyal customers, and to be surrounded by other like-minded businesses that are willing to work together.”

Rick is supportive of weather protective outdoor dining options that will continue to assist the hospitality industry trade well through all seasons.

“We are grateful and excited to have options to accommodate our diners,” he says.

For newcomers like Vicki, the small infrastructure investment has created an attractive and enticing space from all viewpoints along her Creswick Road location, where you’ll find happy patrons comfortably browsing the paper and enjoying coffee, cake and charcuterie boards on a lazy, even windy, afternoon.

Dining out

The City of Ballarat committed $700,000 in its 2021/22 Budget to fund further outdoor dining infrastructure. It also announced a $1 million business support package to assist the hospitality and retail sectors to reactivate the CBD leading into summer.

City of Ballarat Council Plan Alignment

The projects, initiatives, and ideas in this article align with the following goals of the City of Ballarat Council Plan 2021-2025:

Goal 5
A strong and innovative economy and city

Goal 6
A Council that provides leadership and advocates for its community