Melbourne restaurant owners back transport, office plan to boost CBD


Melbourne restaurant owners are backing a radical plan to revitalise the city’s night-life post-COVID, saying the hospitality industry is “bleeding” and “any idea has got to help”.

The Property Council of Australia is pushing state and local governments to introduce a “Fab Fridays” idea where city workers would knock off at 4pm and public transport into the CBD would be free on Fridays.

Under the plan, councils would also launch festivals and events to encourage people “to get out and about and make the most of their Friday afternoon”.

Chin Chin restaurant owner Chris Lucas said Melbourne’s hospitality industry needed help immediately.

“There are lots of good ideas floating around, but what we really want is a dissemination of those ideas and we need some action now,” he told NCA NewsWire.

“Business has picked up a little last week and hopefully this trend continues, but we need to see these plans to revitalise the CBD executed as soon as possible before venues start to close.”

Becco owner Simon Hartley said the industry was grappling with both a lack of staff and diners.

“It’s disastrous – we are nowhere near back to what we can do,” he said.

“We need tourists, we need theatre opening up and we need workers back in the CBD.

“Our biggest problem is staff – no one can get staff – you ring up any restaurant and they’ll tell you the same thing. That’s why a lot of restaurants are closed down for breakfast or they shut on Mondays.

“Before COVID 35 per cent of our staff were on working holiday visas and student visas, and there’s none of those around, plus with the length of lockdown in Victoria people moved away – we lost two to Queensland.”

Project 49 chain and Rosella restaurant owner Rocco Esposito said an incentivised approach to helping workers back into the CBD would make a difference.

“There’s definitely less movement out there, nothing is happening in the hospitality world – it’s bleeding,” he said.

“There’s no more aperitif hours, no more quick glasses of wine after work or post-office beer sessions – any bit of assistance would help us.”

Property Council Victorian executive director Danni Hunter said it was “just a proposal”, but she understood the City of Melbourne was “keen on the idea”.

She said the proposed date was expected to coincide with the start of the second school term in April.

“Free public transport is just one way that will encourage Melburnians into the CBD on Fridays, with the extra incentive of knowing you’ll get home safely after a wonderful dinner and show,” Ms Hunter said.

“We’re calling on CBD bosses to introduce a 4pm knock-off pledge, encouraging workers to leave the office together and either go for a walk through the city or enjoy a cheeky after-work drink.”

City of Melbourne figures show 29 per cent of shopfronts in the municipality are vacant.

Deputy Premier James Merlino said the decision to allow earlier knock-off times would be up to individual companies and businesses.

He said the state government had no plans to make transport free on Fridays.

“Everyone wants to see the vibrancy return in cafes, restaurants and our streets,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

“I think what we’re seeing, and it’ll emerge more clearly through the course of the year, on public health advice we’re from 50 per cent to 75 per cent office workers. We’ll see a steady increase in that, but we’ll also see a permanent change.

“Anyone anecdotally talking to family or friends, there will be a lot of people saying we’ll come into work a few days, some from home. Greater flexibility in the way people work, that will be a feature of life.”

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