$2.5 million snapped up in dining vouchers as visitors “pour back” into city

Brendan Rees

Restaurants, cafes, and bars across the inner city are “reaping the rewards” of a discount scheme designed to lure diners back to the city.

The City of Melbourne’s popular Melbourne Money scheme, which launched on November 15, has seen diners snap up half of the $5 million rebate pool within just six days after the easing of COVID-19 restrictions fuelled an appetite for people to eat out.    

Diners can claim up to 30 per cent off their bills – up to $150 – between Monday and Thursday when they spend $50 and $500 each week.

For Giancarlo Masini, co-owner of Tiamo restaurant in Lygon St, the scheme has “proved to be very popular”.

“It’s definitely picked up and there’s a vibe again,” he said. “People want to spend and eat out and catch up, so I think that’s been great.”

Mr Masini said while trading was not “really back at full swing just yet” it “was a lot more normal” after revenue had plunged by 85 per cent at the height of the sixth lockdown.  

“This time a month and half ago you would feel there’s no end in sight, but certainly it’s where we left off which is good.”

Luke Katsoulis, manager of Square and Compass café in East Melbourne, also praised the scheme, saying they were “definitely getting a lot of people” through their doors.  

“I would say just shy of where we used to be. We’re noticing it’s slowly picking up week by week,” he said.

“I think people are still a bit apprehensive to come out,” but he added, “if it’s good weather we’re full during lunchtime, which is great.”

Gough Amontha, owner of Humble Rays in Bouverie St, Carlton, said the Melbourne Money “definitely helps” with a “good atmosphere” having returned.

“The scheme is actually done pretty good, we’re happy about it,” he said, but added his biggest hurdle was hiring staff to keep up with demand, a situation which he hoped would improve by the New Year.   

However, for traders like James Cosca, who runs Parkside café in Parkville, business hasn’t been steady.

“I’m waiting for people to come back to work to get back to normal,” he said, adding business was “not even close” to where it was before the pandemic.

Angelo Gibaldi, who runs Stuzzichino Cafè on Lygon St, agreed, saying while he welcomed Melbourne Money, trade had been unpredictable with about 10 per cent of customers having taken advantage of the scheme.   

“I have no idea why they’re not coming out,” he said when he spoke to Inner City News on a sunny midweek day in November.  

“I was excited to be honest but what I’m seeing now there’s no more excitement left that’s for sure.”

“It’s lucky we’ve got a few functions coming up, so that’s going to be pretty good.”

Michael Chen, who runs George St café in East Melbourne, said he hadn’t “seen any” customers asking about the scheme.

“We are a very small café. People mostly pick up coffees for takeaway. I think it might help at bigger venues [for customers spending more than $50],” he said.

Phillip Mansour, executive officer of the Carlton Traders Association, said the Melbourne Money scheme had been “amazing”, providing a much-needed cash-boost for businesses.

“It is definitely working for the traders, they’re loving the opportunity,” he said, adding Lygon St had come “back alive”.

However, he said most people claiming discounts had been locals and hoped more initiatives would be launched to “attract and incentivise more people to the precinct”.

Mr Mansour said the association was also looking forward to filling empty shop fronts with nearly 200 applications from “new, vibrant businesses” having so far been submitted to the City of Melbourne’s shopfront activation program.

The City of Melbourne said diners were claiming $450,000 a day on average through Melbourne Money, which generated $40 million in revenue for hospitality venues earlier this year when it was initially launched.

Just over half of diners said the initiative had influenced their decision to return to the office. 

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the scheme had given a “fantastic boost to weekday retail and entertainment, as punters pour back into the city for work and play”.

Cr Capp said it was expected funds would “run out” by the start of December and encouraged people to “make plans to dine in the coming days to make sure you don’t miss out”.   

City activation portfolio lead Cr Roshena Campbell said, “Restaurants across Melbourne are reaping the rewards of our Midweek Melbourne Money scheme, which is helping deliver a consistent flow of business throughout the week.” •


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