22 January 2024

Venomous snake's surprise visit to South Coast restaurant brings complication to dinner service

| Claire Sams
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Two men in uniform

A successful rescue of a snake brought smiles and laughter to a Pambula restaurant last weekend. Photo: Damien Foley.

A night of excitement in a South Coast restaurant began with an unexpected discovery – and was followed by a rescue effort.

“We had a full house ahead of us when one of my waitstaff noticed a small tail poking out from underneath the bar,” said Jacqui Smith.

“I was just coming in with a handful of flowers for the tables when it was discovered, and I could not believe my eyes.

Ms Smith is the owner of Wheeler’s Seafood Restaurant and Oyster Bar in Pambula, in Bega Valley Shire.

When she and her team found the snake on Saturday evening (13 January) just before 6 pm, its presence raised some difficult questions and “a fair bit of panic”.

“We had no idea how big it was or what sort of snake it was,” Ms Smith said.

“It was quite a crisis since we had to figure out what to do with people about to arrive or already arriving.

“Fortunately, the team did so well and cordoned off the area and worked together to make it all work – despite being quite worried about the situation and what might happen.”

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While her husband kept an eye on their unwelcome guest, Ms Smith set about breaking the news to customers.

“We informed all of our guests arriving and amazingly, not one person turned away,” she said.

“We got in touch with the Bega VRA [Bega Valley Volunteer Rescue Association], and they came as quickly as they could.”

Their guest turned out to be a baby red-bellied black snake that was roughly 50 centimetres in length.

“Steve Odell and Kevin Young from the Bega VRA were here just before 7 pm and were able to fish him out by the tail and pop him in a bag,” Ms Smith said.

“They received a standing ovation and everyone was quite delighted.”

The snake was quickly released into bushland near the restaurant, where he presumably slithered away to find some dinner.

“It was a shock, but it was just a little guy who was probably more scared than we were,” Ms Smith said.

When the adventure was over, Ms Smith took a look at security footage to see when and where the snake had entered the restaurant.

“He came into the building through a tiny gap in a door at about 1 am that morning, when the movement set off the motion sensors,” Ms Smith said.

“We’d all gone within inches of the snake multiple times that day, completely obliviously.

“It was quite lucky.”

Ms Smith said that once the snake was removed, dinner service resumed as normal – or almost normal.

“A lot of our guests had gotten off of their chairs and gathered around to have a look [during the removal],” Ms Smith said.

“A lot of snake stories were recounted afterwards, with people telling us about finding a snake here, there and all sorts of ghastly places.”

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While this story had a happy ending, Ms Smith said she wasn’t keen on meeting more reptiles – at least at her place of work.

“Not once in my time in hospitality have I ever come across a snake in the building,” Ms Smith said.

Ms Smith said her gratitude lay with her team and customers (for keeping a cool head) and the Bega Valley Volunteer Rescue Association (for handling the removal).

“My team really kept the wheels turning,” Ms Smith said.

“The Bega Valley VRA was very professional and very calm, and I’m really grateful to them.”

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