The restaurant industry is heading back to normal. Unfortunately, ‘normal’, in the historic sense means that no one except the wealthy will be able to afford to dine out.
My best guess is that we are going to return to something approximating the dining scene of Melbourne in the mid-1960s. There were hamburger joints, fish and chips and a few Chinese dives and, at the other end of the spectrum, a very few upmarket restaurants that were way out of the reach of working people. That was it; there was almost nothing in between – Pellegrini’s was a noble exception. Even most of the Fast Food chains won’t be able to take the pain resulting from the 2020 shutdown.
Our hubristic politicians decided that it was better to destroy everyone’s livelihood, than to risk being seen to be doing nothing. Nothing, of course, was what sensible people would have preferred them to do – would always prefer that they do. In their defence, most of the politicians did not have the wit to understand the ramifications of shutting down business. Yes, some people would die of the Wuhan Virus, some people have died, but better that nature takes its course than that the steel claws of government rake the livelihood out of everyone.
Quite apart from the destruction of the economy, it is certain that banning people from the fresh air and sunshine, including the best place to be – beaches, and using ventilators on those with weakened lungs, all contributed to a greater death toll than was necessary.
It does not matter when or how the economy is allowed to flutter its eyelids again. It was too late from the first day that businesses were forced to close their doors. On that day, all trust, confidence and certainty were destroyed and cannot be recovered. A new prosperity will have to be created by the construction of a new business momentum. Even with ideal business conditions, that will take a few generations. Under the existing regulatory restrictions, it will never happen.
Another guess is that the push toward a cashless economy has been not only stopped in its tracks, but reversed. Tough times lead to a higher demand for cash. Partially because a lot of people are about to lose their credit rating, along with their credit card, and partially because tax avoidance rises in a depression.
As more and more restaurants and cafes have gradually adorned our streets these past fifty years, with their wonderful aromas of cuisine and coffee, so those that choose to reopen will gradually close again and leave empty shells as reminders of the golden age of dining that once was.
Dining out? Only in your fond memories and in stories that you will tell your surviving, disbelieving grandchildren.
I truly do hope that I am wrong in writing this. One of my great social pleasures is fine wining and dining with fine friends.