Get up to date with Australia’s new café and restaurant standards

7 min read
Kara Stokes

UPDATE: This restaurant standards post was originally published on 14 July 2020 and updated on 25 August 2020.

With the arrival of COVID-19, cafes and restaurants were forced to close their doors with little warning. Many were able to keep afloat by switching to takeaway orders, but all were affected by the changes. Thankfully, in most states, restaurants and cafes are slowly opening up for sit-down dining again — though under various restrictions. Before you set the tables and welcome your customers back in, it’s essential that your business is following the new Australian restaurant standards.

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COVID-19 restaurant standards by state

All states require businesses to provide clear signage about social distancing rules. For example, all food businesses must have signs on the door and floor or wall markings showing patrons where to stand.

You’ll need to consider where people will wait when ordering and collecting their food. Also, restaurant standards require adequate room for physical distancing between workstations (where appropriate) and tables.

All states require customers to be seated when consuming food and beverages. This includes bars where patrons may only want to buy a drink, they must be seated.

Be sure to check your state’s current guidelines via the links below, as the requirements will likely change.

You can find printable posters and information sheets for staff and customers from the Department of Health.

Each state has specified the current seating capacity for food businesses. Note: the restaurant standards below were up-to-date as of the 25/8/2020, but the restrictions are updated frequently. Check the links provided for the latest guidelines.

ACT - Complete details

  • Maximum of 100 patrons in each indoor and outdoor area
  • One person per four square metres
  • Maximum of six people per table
  • All patrons must be seated when consuming food or beverages

NSW - Complete details

  • Maximum of 10 people per table
  • One person per four square metres or a maximum of 300 patrons, whichever is less
  • All patrons must be seated when consuming alcohol

NT - Complete details

  • Maximum of 10 people per table
  • One person per four square metres or a maximum of 300 patrons, whichever is less
  • All patrons must be seated when consuming food or beverages

QLD - Complete details

  • Maximum of 10 people per table
  • One person per four square metres (one person per 2 square metres for venues under 200 square metres), with a maximum capacity of 50 patrons
  • All patrons must be seated when consuming food or beverages

SA - Complete details

  • Maximum number of patrons allowed is based on the size of the venue
  • One person per two square metres

Tas - Complete details 

  • Maximum of 250 patrons for an undivided indoor venue and 500 people for an undivided outdoor venue
  • One person per two square metres

Vic - Complete details

Victorian metro is currently under stage four restrictions and regional areas are under stage three. All are subject to these guidelines:

  • Cafes and restaurants are able to provide take away and delivery service only
  • All food and beverage outlets in food courts are closed
  • Permitted workers may attend the workplace
  • All Victorians must wear a face mask when they leave home

WA - Complete details

  • The maximum number of patrons allowed is based on the size of the venue
  • One person per two square metres

These cafe, food business and restaurant standards will likely change, so be sure to check the links above for the most up-to-date requirements.

Looking after staff and customer health

As an employer, you have a duty of care to make the workplace as healthy and safe as possible, and to reduce the risk of COVID-19 where possible.

Remind your employees not to come to work if they’re unwell or if they have been with people diagnosed with COVID-19.

Make sure all staff members know that they won’t be penalised for calling in sick, and where they can find out their leave allowances. It’s best to check in with your staff daily to review their health.

In the past, you may have allowed your staff to work if they had a minor sniffle, but under the current restaurant standards, that’s no longer okay.

This means you may need to have more casual staff on standby in case one or more of your workers is unable to work their shift due to being unwell.

Symptoms of COVID-19 are:

  • Coughing
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue

After an employee has been unwell, they must be deemed safe to return to work by a health professional.

All health professionals are working closely with the health authorities to ensure they’re up-to-date with the current guidelines.

Making your workplace a safe environment

Person Washing Their Hands in an Industrial Sink

It’s more important than ever to ensure your workplace follows strict restaurant hygiene standards. This includes:

  • Cleaning and sanitising all utensils for drinking and eating
  • Enforcing social distancing. Ordering from a table, instead of coming to the counter, minimises contact and increases physical distance between groups.
  • Cleaning and sanitising equipment. Tables, benches and chairs are included along with coffee machines, other kitchen equipment and any surfaces that make contact with food.
  • Cleaning and sanitising often-touched surfaces, such as EFTPOS keypads, light switches, as well as tap, door and fridge handles.
  • Regular hand-washing by all employees.
  • Reminding staff not to touch their faces unless they have washed their hands first and to wash them again afterwards.
  • It’s a good idea to laminate menus so that they’re easy to clean between customers. Removing all condiments from tables will also help reduce the risk of contamination.

Related: Improve your workplace health and safety

What about reusable cups?

The current Food Standards Code doesn’t provide specific guidance about the use of reusable or keep cups.

Many cafés have switched back to single-use cups, or ask customers to hold onto the lids while staff fill the cup.

Person Holding Black and White Disposable Cup

If your customers like to use their BYO cup or mug, it’s your choice whether or not you’ll accept them. If you do decide to allow reusable cups, you’ll need to create a policy that covers who’s responsible for cleaning and sanitising them.

Although not an environmentally friendly choice, many restaurants are changing to:

  • Individual water bottles and drink containers
  • Single-use cutlery
  • Paper napkins

Most see this as a temporary necessity to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

What are the commercial kitchen code requirements?

In accordance with the current Australian Food Standards, all commercial kitchens must have:

  • An adequate supply of water
  • Facilities for the storage and disposal of rubbish and recyclable materials
  • Sewage and wastewater disposal systems
  • Sufficient mechanical or natural ventilation
  • Sufficient natural or artificial lighting
  • Hand-washing facilities
  • Adequate storage space for items such as food, clothing and personal belongings
  • Adequate toilet facilities

As a food business owner, it’s your responsibility to make sure the walls, ceilings, floors, fixtures, fittings and equipment on your premises also comply with the Australian commercial kitchen code requirements.

Is it worth reopening your restaurant?

It’s up to each business owner to ensure their workplace follows the current restaurant standards, so make sure you stay up-to-date with your state’s restrictions.

As restrictions ease, reopening will become a viable option for more food businesses.

There will be financial costs to consider when reopening, due to the additional cleaning and safety requirements. Also, being limited in the number of customers you can serve will impact your revenue.

Look at the current restrictions on seating capacity and social distance in your state, and then decide whether you can maintain them in your venue.

You’ll also need to factor into your budget additional resources such as casual staff for covering unwell employees.

But it’s also worth looking at the benefits of keeping your business open as much as possible. For you, your staff, and most importantly, for your loyal customers who want to support you as we all recover from the COVID-19 losses.