How we celebrated. The Melbourne Cup 2020 COVID-style

November 5, 2020
By Melissa Parker

Hospitality heroes and drinks businesses ‘pivoted’ to use an overused COVID catchword, and found new opportunities in the COVID chaos to celebrate the iconic Melbourne Cup.

It was the 160th year of its racing but COVID didn’t stop Australians making the most of the Melbourne Cup with the help of innovative venues making necessary changes to operate COVID-safe environments.

Melbourne’s strict lockdown measures were lifted at the eleventh hour for racegoers to flock to bars and restaurants, albeit in limited numbers to celebrate the iconic race in traditional style.

In Sydney, Melbourne Cup events sold out at venues as the Race Week fever took hold. The Merivale Group which owns Berts in the Northern Beaches and Ivy celebrated the Cup in true Sydney style.

A spokesperson for the Merivale Group told Drinks Trade Online: “Whilst this year’s Melbourne Cup was unlike any other, the energy and excitement for good times were certainly still high with all events sold-out across the group.

“We leant on strength of service and expertise to ensure that guests didn’t notice the changes we had to make operationally and felt at complete ease in the seated environment. It was brilliant to see people dressed-up, socialising and celebrating, safely, again”.

Meanwhile back in Melbourne, if you were not one of the lucky few at a venue, then the Melbourne Spring Carnival was all about picnics in the park, boot parties in driveways, fashions on the front lawn. On-premise venues had to move fast from closed to days later hosting up to 70 Melbourne Cup revellers. 

For the founder of The Big Group, Bruce Keebaugh, the Spring Racing Carnival is the most important event of the year. The catering business has held the catering contract at Flemington Racecourse for the past thirty years.

This year the business experienced an altogether different Melbourne Cup and celebrated in style at its new venue The Commons in Ormond Collective on St Kilda Road just in time.

The Commons Melbourne

Restrictions in Melbourne allowed for just 20 guests indoors and a maximum of 50 outdoors, but that didn’t stop the ‘hospitalitarians’ putting on a great event. Once restrictions ease further The Commons has the licence to accommodate up to 1900 guests.

“It was fascinating because we have been working on Melbourne Cup for nearly six months with the sponsors and the Victorian Racing Club on multiple modules. We did so much creative from spectatorless to minimum spectators to medium-sized spectators because it was very hard to gauge what would happen with regards to COVID,” Bruce Keebaugh told Drinks Trade Online.

“The whole thing was to gauge the timing, and that is something we as events people are strong at because we need to have people in this industry who can pivot very quickly,” Keebaugh added.

The vibe at The Commons was very Melbourne Cup Birdcage but without the horses thundering along on the periphery. VIPs and celebrities attended dressed in their Melbourne Cup finest and enjoyed The Big Group’s famous hospitality in its new on-premise environment.

And for those celebrating the iconic race at home The Big Group created the Boxed by Big Group taking what they did at the racecourse to the home environment.

Champagne Melbourne Cup sponsor Maison Mumm also made the most of the  ‘off track’ environment. It hosted the Maison Mumm Hotel at Pier One in Sydney for VIP and celebrity guests, hosted by the Mumm Collective members, international model Georgia Fowler, TV presenter Kate Peck, musician Thandi Phoenix, and designer Hayden Cox (with wife Danielle).  

In an online Melbourne Cup day first, Mumm invited everyone in Australia to raise a glass to the great race with the hosting of the first virtual champagne tasting at the Sydney Opera House and created at-home celebration packs in conjunction with Victoria Racing Club.

“This year’s Melbourne Cup Carnival may have been like no other, but one thing that has not changed is our commitment to all of Australia being able to celebrate and raise a glass, wherever they were,” said Eric Thomson, Global Marketing Director, Pernod-Ricard.

“We may not have been trackside, but Mumm reimagined an amazing way to celebrate by creating a special moment where all of Australia could raise a glass and enjoy the day,” said Mumm Collective member, Georgia Fowler.

“And it was fun getting to create the champagne fountain – it’s not every day you get to strike a 6L bottle of Mumm with a sword.”

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