The scheme, run in 11 precincts including Spring Street, Docklands and Flinders Lane on Thursday and Friday, encourages social distancing by allowing more tables and chairs outside venues.
Streets will be close off to extend space for eateries’ tables and to spread-out crowds. Lord mayor Sally Capp said more than 5100 people had so far booked Street Feasts spots on New Year’s Eve alone. Of the 50 venues taking part, 30 are booked out.
Eateries taking part have reported strong bookings.
David James, owner of The Mill restaurant in Hardware Lane, whose 80-seat dining room is booked out on Thursday night, said the scheme was “interesting” but he did not know how the night would go.
But one advantage of having no fireworks, he said, is that customers will not abruptly disappear at 11pm to watch them.
Mr James said he had not received much information from the council about how the New Year’s Eve event, for which council was setting up barriers and lighting on Wednesday, would work. “It should be good,” he said.
However, lately his venue and others had been in “uncharted territory”, with fewer people working in the city, no tourism and staff hard to find. “The reopening process has been very hard work,” Mr James said.
The council and the state government have stressed that COVID safety means people should not go to the CBD on New Year’s Eve unless they have a restaurant reservation.
“The only people allowed into the CBD over the New Year’s Eve period are those who already have a booking at a hospitality venue,” acting Premier Jacinta Allan said on Tuesday.
Michael Ibrahim, owner of Max Bar Restaurant, said insisting that people book a table before coming in to the city was “a bit harsh”.
“A lot of people like to walk around the city on New Year’s Eve, there’s a food festival going on around, I reckon they should loosen it up a bit,” Mr Ibrahim said.
He said his venue was almost booked out with 220 reservations for New Year’s Eve, when it will be open until 11pm, but it will take walk-in customers.
He was heartened Melburnians were “coming out and supporting small businesses”.
“I reckon that’s a good sign,” he said.
Mr Ibrahim said Max’s tables were distanced 1.5 metres from each other, both inside and outside the restaurant.
Max was closed for the best part of six months this year. It initially struggled after reopening on November 2, but is now “probably 50 per cent or 60 per cent of [the business] we used to do. Which is acceptable.”
Mr Searle said Rice Paper Scissors is booked out on New Year’s Eve with three sittings, capped at 65 people each, but there are still spots available on New Year’s Day.
He said in the current environment, it was right for the council not to encourage big crowds in the city on New Year’s Eve.
He was confident the venue could keep customers safe, creating more space with tables under a gazebo in front of a currently unused international student centre.
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Carolyn Webb is a reporter for The Age.