CANBERRA’S hospitality businesses have a one in two chance of surviving past their first four years, recent figures show.
A report released last month by the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed that of the food and beverage businesses operating in June 2008, approximately 50 per cent closed by June 2012.CEO of Zoo Advertising and hospitality investor Pawl Cubbin says he’s unsurprised by the figures.
Pawl has been responsible for the development of some of Canberra’s most successful hospitality businesses, including Bellucis, Academy nightclub, Suburban and Public.
“It’s not an industry for the faint hearted,” Pawl says.
“I think the problem, though, is not that Canberra customers are fickle, it’s that many people here who enter the hospitality industry aren’t driven enough, they don’t have the passion, and they don’t research their customers.”
So what factors increase a business’s longevity?
Pawl says it’s not necessarily about location, decor or even ambience – Canberrans just want consistency.
“If you look at the longest-running businesses in Canberra – The Kingston Pub, Gus’, Mooseheads – yes, they’re all similar in that they’re casual, but they’re good-quality casual, and Canberrans know what to expect from them in terms of the experience,” he says.
“Then you look at our Asian restaurants – let’s face it, the service isn’t always great and the decor is pretty simple, but they are always quick and you know exactly what you’re getting. It’s about knowing what your customer wants from you. With that type of cheap and cheerful restaurant, they just want a quick, good quality meal, every time.”It’s also about evolving when necessary, says Pawl. He admits his businesses don’t always get it right, and when they don’t it’s important to “tweak” the model, and fast.
Manuka’s Public opened in 2011 and has changed its menu three times to suit customers, eventually settling on “simple pub” meals and lowering prices.
“People may think Manuka is a ‘yuppie’ suburb, but a yuppie pub in Manuka doesn’t actually work, believe it or not,” he says.
“Our customers, they work hard, they have money to spend, but at the end of the day, they don’t want a yuppie-pub experience – they just want a good pub experience.
“You’ve got to know your customers, and what they want, and sometimes that can almost be contradictory to who they are. So there’s no substitute for research, and for working really hard to tweak your product to get it right. If you don’t, it’s over.”
“CityNews” food reviewer Wendy Johnson believes location and great fit-outs are big drawcards for customers too, but agrees many local businesses have been failing because of a lack of consistency.
“You don’t want to keep going to a place where you never know if it’s going to be awful or excellent,” she says.
She adds that Canberrans are much more aware of what they’re paying and are reacting to inflated prices.“Many restaurants are now having to bow to what consumers are demanding, which is reasonable pricing – you see a proliferation of happy hours, weekly deals, daily specials and the like,” she says.
“There was also a saturation of expensive fine dining in Canberra for a while and this has led to some closures, even of long-standing restaurants like The Hermitage and top quality ones like Alto.”
Pawl says the trend towards “funky” restaurants and bars in Braddon and the city, such as 86 and A.Baker, will last as long as businesses have a 24/7 commitment.
“They may be busy on Fridays and during the summer, but you have to think about winter too, what do you do to optimise the low time,” he says.
“It’s about focusing on how you deal with that, so you can run a business. You can’t just survive on warm weather and weekends. It’s got to be busy all the time. It takes a lot of thinking, the right vision, and a lot of commitment.”
Going the distance in the face of changing dining trends, these Canberra venues show cheap, casual and cheerful are generally favoured by locals.
- Caph’s Cafe, Manuka – 87 years
- Kingston Hotel Pub, Kingston – 86 years
- Charcoal Grill Restaurant, Civic – 51 years
- Gus’ Cafe, Civic – 46 years
- Timmy’s, Manuka – 28 years
- Tosolini’s, Civic – 27 years
- Mooseheads, Civic – 23 years
- Bellucci’s, Manuka – 22 years
- Ottoman, Barton – 21 years
- Ramas, Pearce – 20 years