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

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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.

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 nudged pre-pandemic levels – reaching 94 per cent of the 2019 benchmark, while night-time activity “soared” across all dining precincts.   

Anthony Che, manager of Thyme Square Café in North Melbourne, said while the scheme did encourage customers to spend a “tad more”, his venue mainly relied on its regular patrons.

“We definitely had people apply to get the Melbourne Money, but my business has always relied on my regulars, so whether it’s Melbourne Money or not, lockdown or no lockdown, I don’t think it [the scheme] made a difference,” he said.

Chris Lay, owner of Pimm Thai Café in Kensington, said Melbourne Money had given their business a boost.

“It did attract quite a few customers which is good, there were definitely more customers coming through the door,” he said, although he added the street works along Bellair St had caused some disruption. 

“It’s been impacting us for the past month or so. It’s not ideal but there’s not much we can do.” 

Russell Spear, owner of Apollo Café in West Melbourne, said while he believed Melbourne Money was a “brilliant” idea, it didn’t quite tailor towards their business.

“I’m totally in favour of it, I think it’s a brilliant initiative, it gets people out and moving again but in our space it probably doesn’t quite work. I think it’s more for a fine-dining environment,” he said.

 

People certainly did use it, but I wouldn’t say it had a massive impact.

 

Ele Troise, owner of Sussi Italian Restaurant in West Melbourne, said the experience of the scheme had fallen flat of their expectations.

“It would be nice if Melbourne City Council didn’t forget about us – they didn’t send us the paperwork to put on the window and advertise Melbourne Money. We got totally left out,” he said.

“When you ring them, they still didn’t send it out. So, did the scheme do anything for my business? Zero.”

Maurice Santucci, owner of Italian restaurant Sosta Cucina in Errol St, North Melbourne, said the feedback they received was that customers weren’t entirely aware of being able to claim a rebate.

“Introducing a scheme that attracts new customers is always a good thing from a business point of view, but we noticed people didn’t get the gist of it until the end of the campaign,” he said.

“From our end anyway, we had to remind people midweek who didn’t know about it.

“Whether they come back I don’t know. All we can is do the best we can and show them what we do and hopefully impress them and bring more business to North Melbourne.”

Other businesses including a gelati shop in North Melbourne said customers “didn’t really spend that much” to take advantage of the scheme.

“One scoop of gelato is $5 or a coffee or juice is less than $10. People have to buy lots of things to spend over $40,” owner of Hotham Juice and Gelati Sia Kaveh said.

“If they could do $15 or $20 if they could get some refund, it would be good.”

Mr Kaveh said his business was “just surviving” after being hit hard by two years of lockdowns.

“We’re not making any money but we’re not losing any money, we’ve been in this situation the whole time – just surviving.”

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 more than $40, including tickets to the theatre, live music and museums and galleries •

 

Caption: Staff at Thyme Square Café have appreciated the ongoing support of their regular customers.

John Buncle

John Buncle

February 14th, 2024 - Felicity Jack
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