Sally Capp promises to serve up Melbourne Restaurant Week

By David Schout and Sean Car

Melbourne would host a twice-yearly, week-long festival celebrating the city’s renowned restaurants and cafes, under a re-elected Lord Mayor Sally Capp. 

Revealing her idea exclusively to CBD News, Cr Capp said Melbourne Restaurant Week would be modelled on New York’s famous festival which offered fine dining at fixed prices.

It comes after the City of Melbourne struck a $100 million deal with the state government to provide funding for outdoor dining, waive permit fees, establish COVID-safe facilities and assist creative industries safely stage outdoor events.  

Having finally revealed the names on her election ticket on September 21, Cr Capp said Melbourne Restaurant Week was “one element” of her plan for the city’s future, to secure thousands of jobs over the next four years and pump life back into the city. 

She said that the City of Melbourne would work in partnership the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival (MFWF) and restaurateurs to coordinate Restaurant Week, as a part of a broader plan to transform Melbourne with al-fresco dining post COVID-19. 

“Melbourne Restaurant Week will feature fixed price menus showcasing signature dishes in participating restaurants, a progressive dinner party moving from venue to venue for different courses, and a ‘Parma Night’ when chefs across the city will bring us their distinctive take on the legendary parmigiana,” the Lord Mayor said.

“What better way to celebrate the reopening of Melbourne, when we’re able, than by turning the spotlight on our world-famous dining options.”

“As well as bringing people back into our city, Melbourne Restaurant Week will help support the hospitality sector which has been hard hit by the economic devastation caused by the COVID pandemic.”

Under the initiative, she said the City of Melbourne would invest $2 million in promotion and subsidised parking to support the event, $1.5 million in marketing across Australia and internationally, should borders reopen. 

A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) commissioned by the City of Melbourne and the state government forecasts that more than 22,000 jobs could be lost in the city’s accommodation and food services sector in 2020 alone.

 “I will work to save the jobs we have and to generate new jobs by driving public and private investment in the city for things like attracting new events, new business and construction,” she said. “I want to see jobs, jobs and more jobs in Melbourne.”

“When people are working, businesses are working and the city is working. A job means money in someone’s pocket, it means money going through shop registers, money circulating through the city, and circulating through the state and the nation. I’ll have more to say about my plan for Melbourne’s future in coming weeks.”

Cr Capp’s plan comes after the City of Melbourne and the state government announced a joint $100 million “City Recovery Fund” on September 14, which could see the city’s iconic bar and restaurant scene hit the streets. 

As the hospitality sector continues to struggle in the wake of COVID-19 restrictions, bars and restaurants will be serving customers on pedestrian-only city streets through the fund. 

An impression of outdoor dining in the CBD.

Modelled on New York’s “Open Restaurants” initiative, the plan will move tables and chairs onto footpaths and even roads as a way to work around strict indoor dining health rules. 

The fund will also assist the cultural industries to ensure events comply with health directives. 

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said ensuring a clean and COVID safe city was step one in injecting life back into the city. 

“These businesses are part of the fabric of our city and will be crucial to our recovery,” she said. “Funding to help local businesses become more COVID safe or expand their trade outdoors will be available as part of this package.”

“We will provide financial support to help businesses trade outside along with making improvements to our streets and public places so that Melbourne businesses can thrive again as we welcome people back to the city.” 

“We need to become a city of yes, and it’s never been more important to be proactive and positive for our local businesses.” 

Premier Daniel Andrews said the partnership was crucial given the “unique burden” currently carried by the inner city, and other cities had shown the outdoor dining experience could work.

“If you look at places like New York, they have been able to get their hospitality sector back to something approaching normal, faster than what would otherwise have been the case because they have used the footpath and kerbside parking and taken public space and turned it into pop-up cafes, restaurants, bars,” the Premier said.

“That is what we will do. We will change the way the city operates and the suburbs and regional cities.”

The Premier urged the City of Melbourne and other councils to work quickly with the hospitality industry and avoid any needless red tape. 

“I say to local government across the board, we are happy to support you to expedite the planning arrangements here, but there needs to be some urgency with this,” he said.

“We don’t want bureaucratic delays. We don’t want arguments and debates. We want as many people seated in as quick a time as possible, utilising public space that has never been on offer previously.”

Soon after, the Lord Mayor confirmed that up to 200 safety officers would deliver COVID-19 safety kits to restaurants and cafes.

The safety kits would include a digital thermometer, information on options for digital check-ins and contact tracing of patrons and staff, fact sheets on enhanced cleaning and infection control, masks, hand sanitiser, floor markers and signage.

Cr Capp called on the Premier to, if possible, bring forward the reopening date for hospitality.

“At this stage, restricted outdoor dining is scheduled to be allowed from Monday, October 26. I urge the government to consider bringing this date forward if case numbers continue to fall,” she said.

“Food premises are already heavily regulated with food safety and food handling plans and the transition to a COVID-safe environment is therefore much smoother and achievable. Melbourne restaurant, pub and cafe owners are dedicated to delivering COVID-safe venues.”

“There are very few COVID-19 cases in Victoria that have occurred as a result of hospitality businesses.”

The news came as City of Melbourne councillors resolved to hold urgent discussions with Myer Melbourne in a bid to save the annual Christmas windows in Bourke Street Mall.

Earlier in September Myer said the Christmas windows would be cancelled this year, but the council will seek to negotiate a joint funding package to keep it alive following an item of urgent business raised by small business, retail and hospitality chair Cr Susan Riley. 

“Premier Andrews has stated Christmas will not be normal for Melburnians this year, however I’m keen for some aspects to be as normal as possible and these windows could go a long way to achieving that,” Cr Riley said. 

“Many Melbournians will recall these windows with fond nostalgia … to enable this to be a joyful time we need to discuss with Myer what is possible and work through a way forward.”

Cr Beverley Pinder suggested that dancers from the Australian Ballet and the use of the City Circle Trams might somehow be incorporated into this year’s COVID-safe Christmas celebrations •

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