I am suggesting a ticketed restaurant sampling afternoon or evening. Because everyone is watching the pennies the tickets would be reasonably priced. Say in the $20-$30 range for a couple. Have 3 to 5 restaurants prepare an appetizer that the ticketed couple could sample. The public would go to the participating restaurants and try the samples then move to the next over a 4 hour or so period. In the fallowing months the remaining businesses would have their turn. Over the next four or five months all of the eating establishments would have an opportunity to win customers and help during this hard times.
I have not worked out the economics but it should be profitable to the business. This is achieved by the volume of customers purchasing tickets before the event. Publicity and council support would help generate the numbers needed. Themes and special events/days could be tied into this as well. It should not take a lot to get large numbers (hundreds) if done right were everyone feels a benefit. This would let the staff prepare the correct amount of food based upon the sales. The public would benefit by learning about a place they have never been to before and have a night/time out without blowing the budget.
Just some thoughts. Any other ideas. Hope some of the council will note this as the start of how to help downtown.