Cut-price lobster rolls and all-you-can-eat tacos: restaurants offer mid-week incentives to get Melburnians back into venues

Staff at the  Esplanade Hotel, Kai Weight and Steph Cornips, with mid-week specials designed to get punters back into ...
Staff at the Esplanade Hotel, Kai Weight and Steph Cornips, with mid-week specials designed to get punters back into the pub. Photo: Eddie Jim

Restaurants and pubs are still in recovery mode with many using incentives to get people off the couch and back into venues, especially Monday to Thursday.

"We want COVID to be over but let's face it, it isn't, and people are not going out as much as they used to," says Aaron Gray, owner of Don Taco in Brunswick.

"There's a group of people who don't want to get COVID, so they're not going out, there are those who are isolating and then there are those who are not sure. Weekends are not too bad with groups but the week can be quiet."

The City of Melbourne's Midweek Melbourne Money has really made a difference says Michael Madrusan of Bar Margaux.
The City of Melbourne's Midweek Melbourne Money has really made a difference says Michael Madrusan of Bar Margaux. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui

He compares Taco Tuesday, when he has all-you-can-eat tacos for $20 and draws 100 patrons, to a regular Wednesday when tacos are $6 and diner numbers languish around 25.

"We don't make any money on Taco Tuesday from the food component because people eat 15 to 20 tacos each, but we make money on drinks and dessert which aren't included," he says.

"We are trying to break the habit people have of not going out. We're finding people need more than just the idea of a meal to motivate them."

Bar Margaux is now offering a "burgers and Burgundy" special for $95.
Bar Margaux is now offering a "burgers and Burgundy" special for $95. Photo: Chistopher Hopkins

The Victorian government's Dining and Entertainment Program was launched statewide (excluding the City of Melbourne) on March 29. Diners who spend more than $40 are eligible for a 25 percent rebate up to $125.

"It definitely helps," says Gray. "The program has come up more and more in conversation and people are asking for receipts."

A state government spokesperson confirmed to The Age there were more than 70,000 claims for dining rebates in the first 10 days of the program and $2 million was paid out.

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The City of Melbourne's Midweek Melbourne Money dining rebate program has identical parameters. It finishes on Monday. Over five weeks of operation, 265,000 claims were processed to a value of more than $7.5 million, with some still to be tallied.

City of Melbourne statistics show night-time pedestrian activity in the Southbank precinct reached almost 94 per cent of 2019 levels between April 4 and 6, and the Wednesday night figures were 22 per cent higher than the previous week.

"It's really made a difference," says Michael Madrusan, owner of the city's Bar Margaux. "Getting money back has helped people go the next shelf up, maybe buy a $75 wine instead of a $50 wine, which can really transform your meal and your experience.

"People get to try stuff they might not normally feel comfortable buying. My only complaint is that the program is ending."

Bar Margaux will continue with its own incentives to get diners into the venue midweek. "My baby is Thursday when we do two burgers and a bottle of Burgundy for $95," says Madrusan, referring to a package that would usually retail at $121.

"Operators really need people to come out but diners are still adjusting to being around larger groups. They need to be pushed to be social beings again.

"Walking into a bar and restaurant and feeling alive and inspired and happy is something you don't get at home on the couch."

Meanwhile, St Kilda's Esplanade Hotel has launched "Change Your Plans", a six-week campaign to turn around notions of "having a night in front of the TV, eating leftovers with your dog, or maybe even going to a gym class".

The Wednesday offers include $5 spritzes (normally $18) and $10 lobster rolls and fries (normally $29).

"The Espy is often associated with Saturday night – it's the weekend warrior with a million things going on," says Bianca Dawson, chief executive of the pub's parent group Sand Hill Road. "The midweek is tougher. We want to inject some fun."