On Wednesday 30 November 2016, I was guest speaker at the City of Sydney’s Business 101 Seminar, Late Starters – Keeping the Doors Open for Night Time Trade. Below is the transcript of my presentation which was filmed on the night. Here is the direct link to the video which you can view online.
Photography © by Kevin Burke for Gourmantic – Copyright: All rights reserved.
Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen. I’d like to start by thanking the City of Sydney for inviting me to be guest speaker tonight.
My name is Corinne Mossati and I am the Founder/Editor of online magazine Gourmantic, and Cocktails & Bars website. Gourmantic was established in 2009 and has since been actively covering the food and drink scene in Sydney as well as publishing travel articles. In August 2015, I launched Cocktails & Bars dot com, a niche website dedicated to cocktail culture and the discerning drinker.
I’ll start by giving you a little background about me and why I’m here. I started my professional career as an Optometrist in private practice. After 10 years, I moved into Human Resource Management then forged a career path in IT Project Management, first as Business Analyst, then as Consultant in a consulting firm before I was self-employed. I’ve consulted for major companies such as AMP, Foxtel, Reserve Bank, University of Sydney, Tower Life Insurance, SAI Global, University of NSW to name a few.
In 2009, I established Gourmantic as an online magazine covering three major areas of personal interest: food, drink and travel. The concept was borne out of elaborate dinner parties we used to host at home where conversations with friends centred on sharing travel, food and drink discoveries from around the world, often lasting till the early hours. I wanted to share the knowledge beyond 8 friends and Gourmantic became an extension of that dining table.
I started the website anonymously, I didn’t even use my first name until I won first prize in a global travel writing competition and I had to slowly come out from beneath the veil of anonymity. It was a little scary at first. Soon after, we were noticed and Gourmantic grew beyond my dreams.
At the time we launched, there were very few online magazines of this kind. People often ask what sets it apart, and it is the integrity, the trust and reputation that we’ve built from Day 1 and maintained over the years.
Looking back, Gourmantic was one of a handful of online publications that wrote about the emerging Sydney small bar scene, and this is something I am particularly proud to have been part of.
Cultural Shift In The Way People Dine Out
During the last 7.5 years, I’ve seen many changes in the Sydney food and drink culture and the way people dine out.
1. Casualisation of Dining
There’s been a major shift towards the casualisation of dining, a move away from fine dining and degustation menus. We’ve seen closures of some of our finest restaurants, more so in recent times. Many restaurants have moved away from the 3 course menu towards share plate dining. People are queuing for food, and we’ve seen the rise of hipster cafes, food trucks and small bars adapting to the current lockout climate.
2. Fast food craze vs health food craze
Sydney has also embraced the American fast food craze with burgers and fried chicken to the point that younger generations have glorified it.
While on one hand we have venues specialising in calorific meals, there’s also a shift towards health conscious eating with the popularity of juice bars, smoothies, raw vegan restaurants and paleo dining. This trend is also making its way into cocktails with bars adopting a healthier choice in drinks.
3. Shift towards food offerings
There’s been a gradual shift away from drinking towards more food offerings. Pubs are revitalising and bringing in renowned chefs with solid food menus and experienced bartenders and sommeliers for their drinks list. Many small bars have expanded their food offerings and it’s a way of keeping customers in and keeping them happy. In the light of the lockout laws, some high volume venues have also reviewed their strategy and adopted new business models.
4. Masterchef influence and social media
Another significant change is the Masterchef effect and explosion of social media which means everyone believes they’re a critic. The popularity of Instagram means we now eat/drink with our eyes first. Venues are creating “instagrammable” dishes and cocktails as part of their marketing strategy.
5. How role of media has changed and how it influences dining trends
Media has significantly changed and influenced dining trends in the last few years. Whereas reviews would be written after a venue has opened for some time, now it’s a race towards who will be first. In fact, media coverage now begins months before a venue has opened. The other significant change is how media has become all about promoting the “hottest new bar you need to be seen at” and “the hot new restaurant you must visit before you die”.
What this means is that it’s all about the “new” and the “now”. When it comes to food and drink, Sydney-siders are fickle, they treat it like fashion and competition is fierce.
To give you an example of the influence of media, I’ve seen some venues open with a solid concept in mind. They had massive media coverage and PR push in the first few weeks. Everyone from print to online to social media wrote about how great it was. The food was highly praised, as were the drinks, the fitout and ambience. Then in less than 2 months, the venue fell out of fashion. Numbers dropped significantly. What did the venue do? It totally changed the concept. They hired a new chef, changed the food offering, changed the drinks list then struggled to market itself as something else. After spending significant dollars on PR and promotion and establishing themselves with concept X, selling Concept Y in a short period of time was very difficult.
Then you have venues that do little in terms of initial promotion and they’ve nailed it from Day 1.
What I Look For When Choosing A Place To Visit
People often ask me what I look for in a venue and what my favourites are. It all depends on the mood – the menu offering, the location, ease of parking or public transport, the service, the ambience, from first impressions when I’m greeted at the door to the time I leave. I’m looking for is an enjoyable overall experience, one that brings me back and one that I can recommend to friends and family as well as my readers.
What Should Businesses Consider When Planning Their Unique Customer Experience
So what should businesses consider when planning their unique customer experience?
1. First of all, ideally, find a gap in the market and try to fill it.
We’ve heard the success story from Lewis earlier on. That location has seen many incarnations in the past and it’s great to see queues outside of Big Poppa’s on Oxford Street.
2. Next, thoroughly plan the concept and the theme that you want to deliver.
If your venue has a theme, is it original, has it been done before, what can you do better than others, has everything been carefully thought through. First impressions count from the moment a customer walks in. Are they greeted the moment they walk in, is eye contact made, what’s the vibe like, the lighting, the temperature, music levels and so on. People often judge a venue by their first impression.
Does the concept fit the area and its demographics. Is it more Surry Hills than Paddington, for example.
3. Be Individual and don’t adopt the cookie cutter approach for long term success
The cookie cutter approach only extends so far and for a short term. Have a point of difference that will bring new customers in and regulars. If your business model is to do burgers or Frosé because everyone is doing them, what will you do long term?
4. Be fully ready once the doors open
I’ve seen many venues open when they’re not ready, and for various reasons. If you’re not ready, consider starting with a week or two of soft openings. Invite friends and family who can give honest feedback and tell you what they don’t like before letting in the public. Remember that reviewers are in the first day and you’d want to be as ready as you can be.
6. Consider the impact of media and the message that your venue is sending.
You’re likely to have numerous write ups in the first month which will establish to the general public what your venue is about and what you’re offering. Is the message out there what you’ve set to achieve? Don’t be that venue that opens with a menu, gets a lot of media coverage then changes it after 2 weeks. Customers will be disappointed.
What Makes A Successful Night Time Business
This brings me to the final part. What makes a successful night time business.
Sydney is limited in the choice of places to eat late. Many kitchens close around 9.30pm. We have fast food outlets, takeaway and of course Chinatown as alternatives. These options alone don’t make it a lively city.
- For dining and drinking, offering a choice is key to a vibrant Sydney night life.
- So is catering for a broader age group than just millennials. Many people work outside the 9 to 5 norm. We have shift workers, the hospitality industry and tourists to name a few. Some people work late into the evening then meet for a drink after work and look for somewhere to eat. Not everyone is out looking to go to a nightclub or grab a burger at 10 pm. Some people want to catch up over dinner and conversations where you can hear yourself think.
- For a night time business, consider the safety of your patrons and your staff. Is it a female friendly environment, is it safe to get to at night, is there good public transport to get people home. Remember not everyone can afford taxi or uber.
- Successful businesses nail the concept from the start. Meeting expectations of the customer is a key point. If you’re marketing yourself as a late night venue make sure it delivers on all counts. First impressions are important, and giving what the customers want and expect will make them want to come back.
- Lastly, plan for longevity. What happens when the media hype of the first 2 months has faded and people flock to the next shiny new venue? Find that point of difference that will bring people back to your venue. And if you’ve invested in an expensive PR exercise and media coverage, build on that wonderful exposure.
The future of night time business in Sydney is in your hands. Thank you.