Smiles all round, as Melbourne hospitality workers remove their masks

It’s been a long time coming. As the clock strikes midnight on Friday, hospitality workers will finally be able to remove their masks after many months of COVID-19 restrictions.

At Her Bar, in Melbourne’s CBD, it will be a moment of celebration. Head chef Josh Rudd said staff were already excited.

Her’s head chef, Josh Rudd, and general manager, Tom Byrne, are happy the mask mandate has been lifter for hospitality staff.Credit:Paul Jeffers

“As soon as 11.59pm comes around, we’ll be ripping them off and probably having a beer after work,” he said.

The end of mask requirements for hospitality workers was one of the key COVID-19 changes announced by the state government on Wednesday, with patron vaccination checks and close contact isolation requirements also ending at 11.59pm on Friday.

Rudd said that the mask mandate had been particularly hard for kitchen staff.

“We’re very, very happy to get the masks off … It’s going to make being in a hot kitchen a lot more comfortable and communicating a lot easier.”

Her’s general manager, Tom Byrne, echoed the chef’s comments.

“It’s just a big relief,” he said. “Our guests have sort of struggled through with us. The service has been difficult. We can’t smile at them, we can’t welcome them like we want to because we’re too busy asking for vaccination certificates and those sorts of things. So being able to go back to that … it’s so much more exciting.“

Dom Gattermayr, co-owner and proprietor of the restaurant Florian in Carlton North, said although not having to wear masks would give hospitality workers a boost, the possibility of higher rates of transmission after the relaxing of rules presented a double-edged sword.

“It’s a tricky one,” she said. “We should have more support for people who still have to quarantine and for businesses owners too, because you pay a sick wage and then you have to pay a wage for someone to come and cover them. It’s a double whammy for hospitality.”

Pinchy’s staff will be able to serve customers without wearing masks after restrictions change at 11.59pm on Friday.

For Pinchy’s Lobster and Champagne Bar manager Malcolm Singh, the rule changes create hope that more patrons will return to venues in the city.

Singh said he’d “love to see the workforce come back into the city in full force,” with the rule changes making for a better hospitality experience for everyone.

“I think it’s just going to be fun,” he said.

Paris Emini was working with her mask on during Friday’s lunch hour rush at Japanese takeaway restaurant, Potto, next to Southern Cross Station.

The 22-year-old said she was happy the rule change brought mask requirements for hospitality workers into line with customers.

“In hospitality, you’re coming in contact with a lot of people anyway,” she said. “No one else is wearing masks and it feels a bit redundant if we are, although I understand why. It’s about time.”

While not having to wear masks in a busy kitchen environment will bring some relief for workers, Emini said she was not comfortable serving unvaccinated customers. Her workplace’s location next to a major transport hub made the changes feel like a “higher risk”.

“I think, especially if we’re not going to wear masks, I think we need to be vaccinated, I feel like that should be the compromise … If we’re lucky enough not to wear masks, the least we can do is be vaccinated to make sure everyone’s safe.”

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