The following series is filled with valuable insights from the country’s leading operators – think Lucas Restaurants, Solotel, House Made Hospitality, and six other groups on everything from milestone moments to the impact of the cost-of-living crisis, what they’re tipping will be big in 2024, and the current staffing landscape.

The next op-ed comes from Lucas Restaurants Founder Chris Lucas.

It’s been really uplifting to see the city slowly returning to normal after the changes and challenges of the last few years — even tourism is back in a big way.

Obviously, the work-from-home option is here to stay, as are its impacts on the day-to-day of the city’s hospitality scene. But it’s clear that for the most part, people are out and about and loving Melbourne’s dining culture as much as ever.

It’s no secret there’s been a tightening of purse strings across the board, which presents plenty of challenges and necessitates some entirely new approaches. Taking that on board, we’ve focused on simply delivering more big-value offerings for our guests including group-wide weekly cocktail hour specials, all-inclusive weekend dining packages like Spring Sessions (Chin Chin Sydney) and Sip & Setto (Yakimono), and affordable free-flowing drinks add-ons that were available at all our venues through the festive period.

We’ve also noticed that while people are dining out less in general, they’re really going all out when they do book a restaurant meal. Private dining experiences have become a popular alternative to hosting big parties at home and there’s been an increased interest in set menus, which I’d say has a lot to do with decision fatigue.

There’s a continued appreciation for the theatre of tableside service, which is something we’ve been championing at our venue Society since day one. Diners are gravitating towards dishes with flair and flourish and I don’t see that changing. But at the same time, they’re seeking out the generous and the familiar; still aiming for high quality but abandoning stuffy fine dining in favour of more welcoming, share-friendly experiences.

In 2024, I’m anticipating we’ll see a big push towards experience-led dining. More and more, people are seeking out ‘the whole package’ — the space, the people, the food, and the drinks are all equally important. And of course, there’ll be no shortage of Lucas Restaurants collaborations.

We love partnering with friends like Jake Kellie at Adelaide’s Arkhé to drive inspiration and fresh ideas and bring a new approach to our menus and offerings.

For the team and I, a huge focus this year will be opening Batard at the top of Bourke Street. After a six-year journey, I am honoured and excited to be bringing one of Melbourne’s most important historical sites back to life. While that will keep us reasonably busy, we’ll also have some more news to share soon regarding our Chapel Street site next to Hawker Hall.