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Melbourne Money brings a welcome boost to traders – but some cafes say it didn’t quite hit the mark

Brendan Rees

Local traders have delivered a mixed response to the latest round of the Melbourne Money scheme, which overall brought a welcome boost to hospitality businesses, with pedestrian activity in Southbank nudging pre-pandemic levels.

The mid-week scheme, which offered discounted dining at the city’s bars, restaurants, and cafes, saw 60 per cent of customers visiting from outside the municipality, spending an average of $155 on meals – $40 more than city residents, according to the City of Melbourne.

The CBD topped the highest share of claims, followed by Southbank, Carlton, Docklands and North Melbourne, with 53 per cent of diners going on to spend $200 or more on retail or entertainment experiences in the city.   

Under the scheme, which ran from March 7 to April 11, diners could claim 25 per cent off their food and drink bill when they spent more than $40 between Monday and Thursday, up to a total spend of $500.  

Foot traffic in Southbank reached 94 per cent of pre-pandemic levels because of the scheme while night-time activity “soared” across all dining precincts. 

For Nick Edgar, owner of Gordon Espresso café, the latest round of the scheme was a big success, which “definitely got more traction this time round.”

“People were definitely paying more attention to it. Whether it attracted more people it’s hard to say but you could see people were using it,” he said.

“I think it was a better campaign, there was more noise about it, and better advertising by the council.”

However, he added he would like to see the scheme next time to include Fridays, which was one of the more challenging days as office workers were not showing up.

Ryan Xue, manager of Betwixt Café and Bar said the scheme had “encouraged a few people to spend that little bit extra to get the rebate”, adding his experience was overall positive.

However, Sporito Café manager Leo Torres said Melbourne Money “wasn’t received as enthusiastically” compared to the first round which was “very popular.”

“When families got together and had lunch it was fine, but a lot of the time we had big tables, but they were all in the same office and they would split the bill,” he said.

“Don’t get me wrong, we were well supported, it’s just because of the condition of the promo where you would have to spend individually a $40 tab before you can get a discount it just didn’t fit in with the market with the customers that we get here.”

“Once they knew about it, they took full advantage of it.”

Ashwyn Prabakaran, owner of 8 Miles Café, said while he believed the scheme was a good idea, he didn’t really benefit much from it.

“We hardly reached $40 bills,” he said of customers who mostly purchased coffee.

 

We had one or two regulars take advantage of the scheme. I know it might be tedious but things like buying a cup of coffee or if someone spends $10, they should get a dollar back.

 

Humbaba café owner Annie Riazi said while she put a sign up on her shop window promoting the mid-week scheme, she wasn’t aware of any customer taking advantage of it.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the latest round of Melbourne Money had pumped almost $100 million into the economy during the past year.

The council’s city activation portfolio lead Cr Roshena Campbell said more than 56 per cent of people said the program had influenced their decision to return to work, while 61 per cent of people said they also spent money on other activities across the city, from retail shopping to attending live events.

While Midweek Melbourne Money has finished, visitors still take advantage of the state government’s $30 million Victorian Entertainment Program, which offers 25 per cent back on eligible entertainment purchases over $40, including tickets to the theatre, live music and museums and galleries.   

Yarra River Business Association executive officer Tim Bracher said the scheme had helped to “boost a major trough in trade resulting from the very slow return of the corporate workforce.”

“Our food and beverage members have reported strong sales in March and April, but it’s hard to know whether these were new customers or repeat diners,” he said.

“Traders are still just managing to keep their noses above the waterline and have been relying on strong weekend patronage to keep the doors open, but usually for limited days a week because of patchy patronage, staff shortages and high labour costs.”

He added, “It’s a multi-piece jigsaw that needs all pieces in place before they can sleep more easily.” •

 

Caption: Betwixt Café and Bar manager Ryan Xue said Melbourne Money has attracted new diners to his business. Photo: Murray Enders.

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