Hotel hopeful for midnight break on New Year's eve

Hotels, bars, and restaurants got an extra hour of trading on weeknights this week. 

But there are no signs the Government will extend those hours to midnight for a New Year toast.

On Monday, the Government Press Secretary released amendments to the state of emergency orders that allowed hospitality sites to keep serving until 11pm instead of 10pm (except on Sundays where closing time remains 10pm).

Tuiataga Nathan Bucknall, General Manager of Taumeasina Island Resort, said he is hoping to see an exemption made for New Year's Eve but that if it doesn’t come, the resort will make do.

As always, the resort is hosting a grand celebration on 31 December 2020, including a fireworks display. 

Traditionally the domain of holidaymakers and tourists, a hotel-hosted New Year’s party has been a favourite of locals too.

The hotel itself is nearly at 90 per cent capacity for room bookings, Tuiataga said. 

And those guests will likely be able to keep the party going until the clock strikes midnight and beckons in 2021.

Bookings are at their best since the borders closed in March, he said. 

“It is what it is. We are happy it is 11, because 10 would have been really lame. 

“If our guests are smart, which they are, they will bring in or purchase alcohol before hand and put it in their room. I can’t sell alcohol after 11 but I can’t stop a guest getting it from their room.”

Since March, when the country entered a state of emergency and implemented a set of rules to avoid any unnoticed spread of COVID-19, bars and eateries have been at the whim of Cabinet decisions deciding when they can open and close.

The few cafes and restaurants whose mainstay was Sunday breakfast or brunch suddenly found themselves with much less income, while popular nightlife spots were having to call last orders hours earlier than they were used to.

Tuiataga said that due to the high profile nature of his resort, Taumeasina has been diligent about following whichever rules are in place, including limits on the number of guests allowed per function (those limits have been removed this week also).

“We have been really strict on timing from day one, and we have to be because we’re Taumeasina. We are a city property and people always look at what we do.

“We will do the same on New Year’s Eve. If it’s 11, 11 o’clock drinks stop and everyone waits around until the fireworks.

“If nothing changes, then the sale of alcohol after 11 doesn’t happen.”

But the extra hour has been happily received. 

Tuiataga said while it obviously means more income for the resort, it is better for customers because they are less likely to drink faster before an early closing time, or bulk up on drinks before the tills close.

“What was happening with 10pm was that people were trying to buy as much as they could before the bar closed. It meant people had too many drinks on their table and it was promoting rapid consumption of alcohol.

“If they have got more time they don’t buy as many drinks at once and it’s a little bit more responsible service.”

The boon in business has been instant. Friday’s traditional two for one buffet was postponed until Tuesday due to the floods with guests unable to get in and enjoy it, and on Tuesday the resort was feeding around 500 people.

“It was mad, it was really good. That’s in the restaurant, outside, the bar area, the ballroom, everywhere. The amount of food we went through.

“The two for one buffet is pretty popular. We don’t make much money from it but it brings people down […], it helps us pay the staff and keep the power on.”

He said while 11pm closing time is certainly better than 10pm, he does wish it was midnight instead, calling it a more reasonable time.

Before March, Taumeasina’s license allowed the bar to operate until 1am, and that was not only plenty of time but also possibly too much.

“I am not a nightclub, I don’t want to be open until 1am, and we only ever used that on New Year’s Eve and special occasions.” 

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