“We had decided to cancel the event just prior to the notification [from NSW Health about the confirmed case attending],” Mr O’Reilly said.
“In the current COVID conditions, demand was just basically non-existent.”
Ordinarily, the venue would have sold out 60 per cent of places for the New Year event by Christmas. This year, demand was already soft and the December outbreak caused an instant collapse in trading.
“When we had the northern beaches cluster announcement, it was basically game over at that point,” he said, now considering when he will reopen the bar.
Cafe Sydney, which boasts a view of the bridge from Customs House, has lost 50 per cent of its December 31 reservations since the COVID-19 outbreak and is “rolling with the punches” as the venue prepares for a scaled-down celebration.
The venue’s general manager, Todd Cummins, said the $1000-a-head New Year event usually sells out by August. Under COVID-19 restrictions and discounted to $800, this year’s event had been booked out until the weekend before Christmas when the northern beaches cluster emerged.
“Then we lost half the bookings,” Mr Cummins said. “It has hit us hard.”
The reintroduction of the one person per 4 square metres rule, tightened from the 2 square metre rule, also meant Cafe Sydney had to rearrange its setup but no customers were involuntarily denied a spot thanks to the large volume of cancellations.
“It is a very challenging landscape at the moment and we are rolling with the punches. But at least we are open,” Mr Cummins said.
Industry sources told the Herald that other popular New Year venues – including the InterContinental, Glenmore Hotel, Eastbank and Searock Grill – had also had a large number of cancellations in recent weeks.
Sydney Harbour will still have a fireworks display at midnight but restrictions announced by the state government this week have heavily curbed the number of people who will be able to watch from ordinarily busy spots by the water.
From 5pm on Thursday, key fireworks vantage points in the CBD and lower north shore such as Circular Quay and Milsons Point will be accessible only to residents and those with bookings at restaurants or hotels under a permit system.
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Fergus Hunter is a crime reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.