Back in the office? Melbourne restaurants hope you’ll forget a homemade lunch and pack $30 instead

Melbourne is serving up a twist on an old adage, hoping the way back into a city’s heart is through its stomach.

Town Hall is using a $5 million fund to entice city workers to dine at a discount at top eateries in the CBD, Carlton and North Melbourne.

Stephanie Papettas of Cumulus Inc., one of the restaurants offering a $30 lunch from Monday to Friday.Credit:Simon Schluter

More than 50 restaurants have banded together, including some in Flinders Lane, Southbank and Chinatown, to offer $30 high-calibre lunch specials.

The restaurants are offering discounts of their own accord and Melbourne City Council does not subsidise the meals, however, it is drawing on $5 million from its city recovery fund to promote the campaign.

Lord mayor Sally Capp hopes the campaign will encourage city workers to reconnect with their colleagues over a meal and drinks.

“Boring homemade lunches during lockdown are definitely a thing of the past,” Cr Capp said.

Restaurants signing up include Supernormal, San Telmo, The George on Collins, Magic Mountain Saloon and Taxi Kitchen. They are offering discounted meals from Monday until Friday, May 7.

Peak-hour foot traffic data shows many city office workers are still working remotely, despite easing restrictions on Victorian workplaces, and requirements that public servants work in the office at least three days a week.

At Andrew McConnell’s Flinders Lane restaurant Cumulus Inc., dinner crowds have returned but fewer people are visiting on weekdays for lunch, general manager Chris Handel said.

“There is just not the foot traffic out on the street,” he said.

The popular venue is plating up black cabbage and feta pastries with salad and a glass of wine for $30. Typically, diners would spend upwards of $50 at the restaurant on food.

Mr Handel says Cumulus Inc. patrons usually stay for about an hour-and-a-half, but the lunches will be pitched to workers on the run.

“There can be a perception that restaurants of this calibre aren’t flexible, that it’s not user-friendly if you have a short lunch break,” he said.

“The initiative is brilliant because it’s not only looking to grow trade where restaurants need it but also encouraging a shift in perception.”

Mr Handel says a good restaurant experience could “heighten everyday life” for workers.

“It creates buzz and intrigue, particularly in city restaurants; there’s a reason they are places of fun and social interaction. People have missed that,” he said.

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