NSW residents could have access to $100 worth of vouchers within months to boost the economy after coronavirus, but participating Armidale businesses are currently hard to find.
The NSW government is set to trial the Dine and Discover vouchers in a small list of local government areas through February, with a statewide rollout tentatively planned for March.
Every NSW resident over 18 years of age will be entitled to four $25 vouchers, two of which can be spent on dining and two on recreation and entertainment.
The vouchers can only be used within businesses that have implemented a COVID Safety Plan and are registered as COVID Safe.
Eligible businesses can sign up for the program now to allow locals to bring their vouchers in later in the year.
The industries that will be able to participate include cafes, restaurants and pubs, arts and entertainment venues, recreational activities, travel agents and tours but not accommodation or alcohol.
The initiative's communication rollout began last week, but when The Express spoke to local business owners, not many were aware of the details or if it would be worthwhile for them to take part.
Chrissy and Peter Rologas run the Courthouse Coffee cafe in the mall, and when The Express visited they had only just heard of the scheme and had no idea how it would work or how they would be reimbursed.
"I have only just heard about it, and I have just received the email so I don't really know how it will work and I don't know how we will get paid," Mrs Rologas said.
"We are COVID-Safe, and we will look into it, but until I receive the details of how it will work I don't know if we will take part - but we will definitely be looking into it."
Manni Singh is the proprietor of the restaurant An Indian Affair, he says he had heard about it but has not received any information, but it sounded like a good idea in theory.
"It sounds like a good idea, so I think we will take part, but I have to check the details of how it works," he said.
Business is booming at Cafe Patisserie in Armidale and Nathan Walker, who runs the cafe with his partner Enora, says the business didn't drop off during the COVID-19 restriction peak last year.
"But we work extremely hard to be busy, we have a lot of staff, and we put the hard work in," he said.
"I have a lot of friends in this industry in Sydney, and for smart operators and for people who know how to evolve and change, they just evolve and roll with the punches, and they just come through it.
"It sounds like a great gesture to re-energise this sector, but from a personal perspective, I think the money could be better spent on services for people who aren't in business who are really doing it tough.
"Doing well in business really comes back on you as a business owner, I think."
Mr Walker said his business was already a COVID Safe venue and was a very clean cafe before the pandemic.
"We just changed to a stronger chemical, and made a few minor changes," he said.
"But in terms of evolving the business, we started to serve out of the window, stopped a la carte and served a lot of pies."
The couple worked seven days a week when the COVID Safe restrictions were first introduced.
"Then when we realized our revenue was OK and went to six days a week, and then when we could reopen the inside of the cafe we went back to five days per week," Mr Walker said.
"We kept everyone employed without taking any Jobkeeper. We never took any government handouts to stay afloat we just knuckled down and got on with it.
"Now we are back to a full menu, and this year I've just put another full-time chef on.
"We've also just bought another 20 chairs and more tables for outside seating, so we have increased capacity outdoors.
"And we're now offering free bottles of carbonated and still water with a new system as COVID has stopped the self-service water option we used to have.
"They're all examples of evolving and adapting.
"We love what we do. It's not work for us, and we have a great team, and we foster a great culture."
Mr Walker said his cafe would be part of the scheme if it is easy to register and does not incur too much administrative work, but that will be more for his customers' convenience than himself.
"Some of the other cafes probably need it more," he said.
Armidale Regional Councillor Margaret O'Connor said the scheme could be a boost to our region's local economy in two ways.
"First it will give consumers the opportunity for a night out together which is a sorely needed lift to our spirits," she said.
"By using the vouchers to support our local hospitality and entertainment businesses, we'll be drawing money into our local economy from outside our region, which is always a great idea."
A spokesperson for Service NSW said before Dine & Discover NSW begins, the program will be tested with businesses at Broken Hill and The Rocks in early February.
"It will then be piloted more broadly in Sydney CBD, the Northern Beaches and Bega Valley from late February," they said.
"Eligible businesses across NSW can now register to take part in Dine & Discover for when the program, which ends on June 30, rolls out across the State in March."
Cr O'Connor said she was excited about the timing.
"For us, it will start up in March when cooler weather is setting in and traditionally we start to hunker down at home," she said.
"A big barrier to growing our night-time economy is getting our residents to go out at night in autumn and winter.
"These vouchers could break that cycle - we need to brave the weather and go out to dine and grab some night-time culture in the cooler months.
"So I'm asking businesses to register and our residents to apply for those vouchers to kick start new habits - let's go out to build a vibrant new year-round night-time economy for our region."
Service NSW has begun emailing businesses from eligible industries across NSW to encourage them to register for Dine & Discover NSW the spokesperson said.
"This will be supported by social media and outreach from Service NSW Business Concierges and Regional Business Concierges in the lead-up to the state-wide roll-out," they said.
A Dine & Discover NSW voucher will look like a QR code.
Customers may present this to a business as a digital voucher on their smartphone or a printed voucher.
To accept vouchers from customers, businesses will need to use the new Service NSW for Business app and install it on each smartphone or tablet that will scan vouchers at the business.
The voucher is processed once it has been redeemed via the Service NSW for Business app and payments will be received by the business within 5 days.