Staff tips and schnitzel sales soar as Sydneysiders return to the pub

Sydneysiders pack bistros across the city for cocktails and crumbed fried chook in a post-lockdown celebration.

This article was originally posted by GoodFood on Saturday, 23 October 2021.

Pub schnitzel orders have more than tripled compared to pre-lockdown trade as Sydneysiders pack bistros across the city for cocktails and crumbed fried chook.

Data from ordering platform me&u shows that chicken schnitzel has been the most ordered dish through the QR code-activated technology since pubs reopened last Monday, with sales up 271 per cent from the week before COVID lockdown in June.

Chicken parmigiana was the second most popular food item, while the espresso martini claimed the top spot for drink orders, with sales increasing by 210 per cent.

At the 700 NSW pubs and restaurants using the me&u platform – including venues owned by Merivale, Solotel and the nation's largest pub group, ALH – overall sales through the tech increased by 82 per cent from the week before lockdown.

"The flurry of activity over the first week of trade was a sign of the return to great times and bustling venues," says me&u founder Stevan Premutico.

"Tips were also up a phenomenal 175 per cent, so it's clear that we are just so grateful to be out and about again."

Meanwhile, data provided by wholesale platform FoodByUs, which is used by more than 1000 Sydney venues, shows that current produce orders are within 10 per cent of their monthly average from May.

FoodByUs co-founder Ben Lipschitz partly attributes the current gap to large club bistros yet to reopen at full capacity. Under the NSW government's recovery road map, premises are currently required to operate at one person per four square metres indoors and two square metres outdoors.

Restrictions are expected to ease further from December 1, with greater freedoms provided to people not fully vaccinated and venues moving to the two-square-metre rule for indoor drinking and dining.

Jake Smyth, co-owner of Mary's Newtown and The Unicorn hotel in Paddington, says his Oxford Street pub has been "f---ing packed" since reopening,

"I walked into The Unicorn for dinner with my family last Monday and just burst out crying. It was such a relief to see people back out at the pub … families and friends dining together after not seeing each other for so long.

"Part of the appeal is rolling down for a schnitzel or burger you can't get at home, but I think people are mainly there for each other – to have a human experience like we've done at pubs for hundreds of years."

However, while many pubs and beachside venues have been packed most nights, other restaurants are experiencing a more steady return to business-as-usual.

"Around 70 per cent of my sales are still through takeaway," says David Chan, owner of Hurstville restaurant Sun Ming which has served Hong Kong cuisine since 1993.

"Before lockdown it was the other way around – 70 per cent of customers were eating in. It's weird … I thought there would be a really big influx of diners.

"Our restaurant is geared towards families and a slightly older generation, and maybe they would prefer to still stay at home … maybe they're still a little scared to leave the house."

Chan says Sun Ming's revenue is returning to pre-lockdown levels regardless, but the only restaurants that seem to be doing "really well" around Hurstville and its neighbouring suburbs are the yum cha institutions.

"Much like a schnitzel, you can have yum cha at home, but it never tastes like it does at a restaurant," he says. "The yum place near me was packed at lunchtime [on Thursday], which was awesome to see. I think once December hits, everything will go back to normal."

Premises in the CBD and Circular Quay have also been slower to bounce back. Steve Davis is the venue manager at Opera Bar and says the past fortnight has been more subdued than reopening after lockdown last year.

"Sydney is sort of back, but it's not quite the Sydney I know yet," he says. "But we're on the precipice [of a return to form] with more workers back in the city now the mask mandate has been lifted for office staff."

Davis says fish-and-chips have been a big seller at Opera Bar, but more customers than usual have been ordering avocado dip and sashimi.

"It's not quite summer yet, but people want it to be, so the spritz section of our cocktail list is also going off. And Sydney's love affair with the espresso martini isn't going anywhere."

Top five post-lockdown dishes by sales through Me&u
1. Chicken schnitzel
2. Chicken parmigiana
3. Chips
4. Chilli con carne nachos
5. Salt and pepper squid

Top five post-lockdown drinks by sales through Me&u
1. Espresso martini
2. Margarita
3. Aperol spritz
4. VB
5. Balter XPA

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