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Southbank leads way as more cafes, restaurants open on weekends

Southbank leads way as more cafes, restaurants open on weekends
David Schout

An increasing number of city cafes and restaurants are opting to open across the weekend in response to Melbourne’s new rhythm — and Southbank is leading the way.

New data from the City of Melbourne revealed that the hospitality sector has acted on recent trends showing higher weekend foot traffic than prior to COVID-19, and have opted to remain open on both Saturdays and Sundays.

The council’s quarterly “economy snapshot” revealed that across the CBD, Southbank, Docklands and Carlton, 68 per cent of cafes and restaurants were now open on the weekend, compared with 65 per cent in 2019.

However, in Southbank — where there are more than 100 cafes — this figure was above 80 per cent on both Saturdays and Sundays.

The shift in business behaviour has conversely seen a slight drop in Southbank hospitality traders operating on Mondays and Tuesdays, while Wednesdays, Thursday and Fridays have remained the same as their pre-COVID level.

“Weekend trade on the Southbank strip has been strong over summer and autumn,” Yarra River Business Association executive officer Tim Bracher said. “Typically, it will diminish, however, as the weather gets colder. Football and special events such as the Rising Festival will provide bumps in patronage.”

Pedestrian counters across the city have revealed a now consistent trend of high foot traffic on both weekends and weekday evenings, when compared with pre-COVID numbers.

In recent months night-time spending was higher than pre-pandemic levels, driven by major events including the Grand Prix and concerts by international artists Harry Styles and Ed Sheeran.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the snapshot data had proven important for small business decision-making in the city.

“[It] continues to be a source of truth for our city traders, helping them adapt and grow in line with Melbourne’s new rhythm,” Cr Capp said. “The fact that a higher proportion of traders are open on weekends and spending continues to rise is proof that Melbourne’s doors are well and truly open for business.”  

However, Mr Bracher said that while that was the case in Southbank, a deeper look at bottom lines suggested traders were still navigating a tough business environment.

 

“While patronage has been good, input costs for food and beverage operators have been high — everything from labour to electricity and produce prices — so the margins are not as strong as they would normally be,” he said.

 

“We are also noticing that corporates are a little more hesitant to commit, and while wedding trade is reasonably strong, their spending level has reduced slightly.”

In response to higher visitor numbers on weekends, the council was set to vote through significant changes to on-street parking in the CBD and a significant part of Southbank.

Free Sunday parking is set to be scrapped, and drivers charged until 10pm (rather than 8.30pm) from Monday to Sunday in both the Hoddle Grid and a significant parcel of Southbank bound by Clarendon St, City Rd and Southbank Boulevard. The Lord Mayor said that feedback from traders was “loud and clear” that they wanted to increase parking turnover to attract more customers on the weekends.

The council did not propose any increase to the current maximum $7 hourly parking rate, and would implement what it said was “fairer, data-led pricing” with a new off-peak $4 per hour rate all weekend and after 7pm on weekdays. •

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