Restaurant and bar owners are betting on the revival of CBD

“The idea is that it’s just to preserve some of these places in Melbourne that I’ve personally loved to drink at, and keep them going and bring them back to their best,” Stevens said.

Charging

“The opportunity is there, there are a lot of people who come to the city and, in general, they spend more per capita.”

Office occupancy rates in the CBD remain low, with the most recent data from the Property Council of Australia showing occupancy in Melbourne was 35 per cent last month.

Stevens said that while the number of customers dropped because there were fewer after-work drinks, those who did come in spent more as they were likely on a date or catching up with friends.

“There are a lot of young entrepreneurs like me who have just opened their own places,” said Stevens.

“It has lowered the price so that it is really accessible, it is reasonable. I think I paid probably a quarter of what you would have paid before COVID for Madame Brussels.”

Another trader backing the CBD revival is Jeremy Schinck, who opened the Pearl Oyster & Chablis Bar last week.

“It has to be baby steps for CBD to really show its full force again,” he said. “I don’t think we are too far from reality.”

Schinck, who also operates Pinchy’s Champagne & Lobster bar in the city, said business there is back to about 80 percent of pre-pandemic levels.

“I think we’re going in a really positive direction,” he said.

“The only thing I can see where CBD is not living up to what it used to be is those busy weekday afternoons and lunches. Staffing is a big problem. I would like to open seven days a week, but I don’t have the staff.”

The Pearl Chablis & Oyster Bar, which opened last week.Credit:jana langhorst

Staffing issues are holding back more venues from opening in the city, according to Food & Drink Victoria CEO Anthea Loucas Bosha.

“I think people are betting on CBD. It will come back, it’s just a question of when,” she said.

Loucas said part of the fallout from the pandemic was a change in customer behavior, but that didn’t mean the city’s restaurants and bars were no longer viable.

“The flexibility at work is not going to go away, but the city will be used differently, and maybe we’ll go back to the time when you went to the city to go out,” he said.

“I would love to see the city back and bustling as it was.”

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