BENDIGO hospitality workers are excited to welcome guests back into dining rooms within days as COVID-19 restrictions ease.
But business owners say the community's response to the shutdown has been "unbelievably good", "phenomenal" and "amazing".
They're looking forward to seeing their customer's faces again.
Restaurants, pubs and cafes are busy preparing to re-open their dining rooms on Monday, after months limited to just takeaway.
Many reported they were nearly booked out for their first weekend trading, more than a week in advance.
But some venues will not re-open until trading regulations allow them to host more people within their premises.
The shutdown pressure has been too much for at least one Bendigo business.
At the Marong Family Hotel a series of separate rooms mean nearly 50 punters will be able to dine in at any one time.
The hotel is nearly booked out for its first weekend open.
Owner Robyn Lougoon said staff were excited to have people back in the building.
Hospitality businesses are allowed to open to a limited number of diners from June 1.
Each separate dining room in a venue must have four square metres of space per person, and no more than 20 diners at any one time.
From June 22 businesses will be allowed up to 50 patrons per enclosed space, if it meets the four square metre per person rule.
The Marong hotel has been doing takeaway, with free delivery to those within the suburb.
It will open for dining-in on June 5, for Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at first.
Mrs Lougoon said the pub had done a similar number of takeaways as they would be doing open.
We want to see our regular faces back, get the darts team, the poker tournaments. Tables to be filled, beer to be flowing.Renee Carroll
She expected the pub's interior would look a bit sparse, but said she was lucky to have open fires in two rooms - to make it comfortable for people.
Mrs Lougoon said the hotel would be able to accommodate 20 people into each of two areas, and eight in one other.
"It sort of makes it worthwhile opening for us. Because the business has been continuing to trade, reopening is not a big deal for us," she said.
"We're quite comfortable with starting slowly and getting a feel for what table service will look like for us.
"The takeaway just keeps things moving. There's no real money in it as such. Hopefully if we can turn over 40 or 50 people on top of our takeaways, we can start to come back to some sort of normality."
But Mrs Lougoon said the four square metre rule would dictate patronage, even once the limit for each room was raised to 50 patrons. She said the regulation also ruled out running functions at the pub.
"I don't have a single room where I could fit 50 people in under the four square metre rule," she said.
Despite this, Mrs Lougoon said it would be good to have patrons back on the premises.
"It'll be lovely to have people - certainly the people who've supported us over the last six or eight weeks - having them back in house," Mrs Lougoon said.
Golden Square Hotel owner Renee Carroll was similarly planning to section off her venue, to "comfortably" accommodate 50 people under the rules. She believes will take 100 people easily when the rules change again.
Miss Carroll said response to pub takeaway had been "phenomenal".
It had also helped to put the venue's name out there, as the hotel had only been open about six months, Miss Carroll said.
The business has kept up its special offers - a parma and pot, pasta nights, burger nights - throughout the crisis.
Miss Carroll said the pub had even gotten busier: through word of mouth, social media and advertising.
She said dine-in would also be an opportunity to get back to normal trade, increase revenue and give more staff shifts.
But dining in will be a different experience post-pandemic.
All prospective patrons will need to make a booking, and the pub will be table service only.
Miss Carroll said she had also trained staff on the government requirements for sterilising: everything from bathrooms to salt and pepper shakers.
She said the new rules would be an educational experience for customers too.
Punters won't even be allowed up to the bar to buy a drink.
But Miss Carroll said she was feeling excited and optimistic about re-opening the dining room. It won't be without its challenges, but she's keen to see the hotel's old-school pub vibe return.
"We want to see our regular faces back, get the darts team, the poker tournaments. Tables to be filled, beer to be flowing," she said.
In central Bendigo Oishii on Wheels was among the venues hoping to fill tables, in the safest way possible.
The Japanese restaurant re-opened for takeaway lunches about three weeks ago.
From Monday it will have some tables outside, rather than in the restaurant's small interior.
Owner David Jeffrey said the support had been "unbelievably good", but foot traffic was nothing like it had been.
Indoors, they've cleared the dining area completely to allow customers 1.5 metres distance.
Mr Jeffrey said the small space was a challenge, but many people were used to takeaway.
MenuLog and UberEats have kept the restaurant busy since it re-opened, he said.
"[People have] been conditioned to takeaway. The transition from going out, meeting people, sitting down, that'll take a bit of time to get traction," he said.
"We've only got a small space, so we don't want people to feel uncomfortable coming into the restaurant to eat."
Mr Jeffrey said he'd really felt supported by the city's community.
"It's been amazing the support that we've had being re-opened. People coming in saying, 'It's so good to see you'," Mr Jeffrey said.
"[I'm] very impressed with the Bendigo community, how well we've done as a group, and I'm incredibly impressed with how people have supported us throughout this journey."
But some hospitality businesses plan to keep offering only takeaway, despite the changes.
White Hills business the Loaded Plate Cafe was among these, with maybe a few tables out the front.
Owner Sharon Chibnall said the business would stick to takeaway until everything was back to normal. She wasn't expecting normal for a long time though.
"I'm just concerned with what the rules are when we do reopen. Are we taking phone numbers addresses? Taking people's temperatures? I'm just not in a position to be putting extra staff on to do that," she said.
"I'm scared if we do the wrong thing ... some things are beyond your control, so I just think we'll keep it the way we're doing things at the moment.
"It's safe for us, it's safe for customers. We'll play it by ear. When the government says everything is normal."
Mrs Chibnall said things had been tough for the business since the shutdown, especially coming out of the Napier Street roadworks.
"That was such a long process, it nearly killed us," Mrs Chibnall said.
Mrs Chibnall was then faced with the task of reviving the business.
"The start of the year I said 'Girls we're getting back to normal'. Then March, that's when the coronavirus broke loose," she said.
It hasn't been as bad as the Napier Street upgrade, but Mrs Chibnall has been forced to cut hours.
Her catering business and conference room trade have both also faded away during the crisis.
With business at below half its pre-pandemic rate, it's just Mrs Chibnall and one staff member working most days.
Before, the Loaded Plate needed six staff.
But Mrs Chibnall said she felt businesses outside Bendigo's central business district had been forgotten.
"It's not just about the CBD. We're Bendigo too," she said.
"We just need the support of the locals, we really need the support."
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