The allure of a warm bed in the morning, fear of the virus, or simply avoiding the daily commute – working from home has become the preference for many Australians. While this has kept spending in residential areas, and online, buoyant, our central business districts continue to flounder – and so do their cafes.

That’s according to a new ANZ report, From stuck at home to sticking with home, released this week, which looks at how (and where) we are spending as the pandemic enters its third year.

The report finds cafe transactions in Australian CBDs are currently running at 40 per cent of pre-Covid levels – and about half of pre-Delta levels in both Melbourne and Sydney – as office workers continue to work remotely. Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth followed a similar trend, but less pronounced.

At the same time, spending in residential areas and online has picked up.

In a September 2021 report, the Australian Government’s Productivity Commission said the number of Australians working from home had jumped from less than eight per cent to 40 per cent in under two years. That trend is having a dramatic impact on CBD businesses, which rely heavily on office workers’ wallets.

But while the figures in the ANZ report may seem worrying, the Productivity Commission believes there are many indications that “the death of the CBD” isn’t here just yet, with many firms continuing to maintain CBD offices “because of their central location and accessibility” even as they experiment with hybrid or work-from-anywhere models. Zoom can’t compete with the high-density, collaboration-friendly capacities our city centres were built for, the commission wagers.

Despite the CBD troubles, ANZ reported an overall uptick in spending since the start of 2022, suggesting the decline of Omicron cases could be boosting consumer confidence; spending was up 18 per cent in the week to 5 February, compared to the first week of the year.

While that may sound like a positive forecast, it does little to satiate the bottom lines of CBD cafe traders suffering through what seems like an interminable drought after two years of lockdowns and more recently, chronic labour shortages.


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