In the early evening of the last week of January my power went off. I checked my local supplier’s website which stated that the outage was expected to be rectified in about 4 hours time. Having no TV to watch and concerned that the battery life on my iPhone and iPad may not last 4 hours I went ‘old school’ and started reading a book as fortunately it was still light enough to do so without a torch or candles. I also messaged the German husband who was at work to see whether ‘the restaurant’ (which is just down the road from our house) was also without power. The response was “Yes” to which I replied “Fantastic. Bring on the crazy complaints” because I knew from past experience that the general public has a very dim view of the reality of power outages on the hospitality industry.

With no power to light the restaurant (last year’s power outages have made me aware that guests actually don’t enjoy candlelit dinners), no lighting for the chefs to cook by, no power to heat the ovens, grill or fryers and most importantly in terms of health and safety to both guests and staff no working fridges, freezers or extractor fans, the decision was made prior to the dinner service to regrettably close the restaurant. The German husband phoned all of the guests with reservations and either spoke directly to them or left a voicemail message where possible, an hour before the first booking was due to arrive. The kitchen then packed down as best they could and everyone went home. As the German husband walked towards our house he noted that every other local business was also shut and that the streets looked like a ghost town. About 3 hours later the power came back on.

Two days later I got the call that I had been expecting from a young woman (let’s call her River) who had made a reservation to dine with us two evenings prior. She explained that she had caught a taxi to our venue to discover a hand-written notice on the door stating that unfortunately due to a power outage the restaurant had closed for the night. She was extremely frustrated as she had travelled by taxi from the other side of Melbourne to celebrate. I apologised for the fact that we had had to close due to the entire local area being without power. River understood this but wanted to know why (seeing as ‘everyone’ has a Smart phone) that nothing was posted on our website or on Facebook. I explained that unfortunately updates to our website and commercial Facebook page can only be made on the computer, which without power, could not be done. She then wanted to know why she hadn’t been called. I checked with the German husband if he had in fact called everyone and was shown the record of the call on his phone, made an hour before her reservation (and yes it was to the right number because I checked that too). River’s response was that she had neither a missed call or a voicemail (I didn’t get into the semantics of that) as I realised that River was not after an apology but compensation of some sort when she informed me that she was unhappy that she was out of pocket and, in her words, “It didn’t cost you anything”.

The reality of power outages on the hospitality industry is of course somewhat different to River’s interpretation of the situation. Firstly, the staff still need to be paid; an employer can decide to retain an employee at work even though they are not working and pay them for the amount of hours they would normally work or send them home and pay them for at least half the hours that they would normally be expected to work. The rent still needs to be paid. Food that has a use by date of the day in question will have to be thrown away instead of being sold. Frozen food may have to be thrown out and some refrigerated food may also have to be wasted to er on the side of caution with regards to food safety. Wines bottles that have been opened to sell by the glass may have to be tipped out due to being open for too long. This is all despite the fact that the business has been unable to take any money through sales.

The impact on a guest whose expectations and understanding of what a restaurant café or bar is there for (to feed and entertain them) and the impact that a power outage has on a business in the hospitality industry (which is there to provide employees and employers with money) becomes even more difficult to justify when one considers the fact that this particular outage was the third power outage of it’s kind in the last month, during summer, the busiest time of the year. Apparently the outages have been caused by a massive surge in use of electricity, such as running air conditioning units during the extreme heat that Victoria has recently experienced, which I find intriguing that a country such as Australia cannot seem to manage. (My sister lives in Malawi which experiences power outages on a daily basis but it is a third world country).

Maybe the general public’s understanding of the impact that a power outage has on a hospitality business should not be the primary concern to a Melbourne restaurant café or bar but a wider concern that as Victorians we are all being kept in the dark.

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