Some of the country’s most respected publicans united earlier this week for the inaugural Pub Leaders Summit, reflecting on the sector’s successes and struggles.
Held at Pyrmont’s Doltone House on 21 March, the Pub Leaders Summit was attended by industry icons including hotel legend Arthur Laundy, C.inc operator Chris Cheung, Sand Hill Road director Andy Mullins and Paddy Coughlan of Bourke St.
Discussion topics included Managing Multiple Sites, Living with the Lockouts, Premium Beverage Opportunities and Boosting your Business with Social Media. Drink’n’Dine’s Jaime Wirth and Steve McDermott from Brisbane’s Statler & Waldorf also spoke on how pubs can improve the profitability of their food offering.
Here’s what they had to say:
1. Do the classics well.
While some creative license is acceptable, publicans need to understand that their patrons expect a certain style of food when eating at their venue. Trying to reinvent the wheel will only hurt your business in the long run, McDermott said.
“If I went to an Italian restaurant and they didn’t have pasta on the menu, I’d be like ‘What the hell are you doing?’ There are some things that you have to have and you have to see it as a style. You’re a pub; you’ve got to have pub food. Fancy it up all you like, but it’s got to be pub food at the end of the day. Otherwise you’re just going to disappoint your customers from the second they walk in.”
Image: Good Food
Wirth agreed, claiming that Drink’n’Dine pub menus need to at least have a burger, fish and chips and a schnitzel. Pub patrons respond well to approachable and familiar meals like these, however they can be complemented by more creative dishes if done well.
“Our model is to pick a street food [concept, for each venue]. In the case of The Norfolk it was Mexican, at The Forresters it was kind of Italian-American, at The Carrington it was Spanish, at The Oxford it was kind of American. And we try to augment that with Aussie pub classics. I think you have to have a steak, you have to have a burger, you have to have fish and chips … Yes, sometimes they [customers] want to have tacos or a salad or maybe some unusual snack, but ultimately they also want to know that they can get a schnitzel or any of those classics. Otherwise, I don’t think people will see you as a pub.”
2. Train your staff
Staff meals are a great way to not only boost morale and create a positive culture in your workplace, they also ensure floor staff are up-to-date with any menu changes, McDermott said.
“At the start of every season I get the staff in for a meeting and we discuss what’s going on. We’ll have a sheet of all new ingredients with a bit of explanation on what they are. We sit down as a group and have lunch together; we get to try everything, which is a real bonding experience as well.”
These gatherings become increasingly important as more and more pubs decide to add their own creative flair to menus, Wirth adds.
“The weirder your menu gets, the more training you need … A pet hate of mine is when a staff member doesn’t know what a certain spicing is, for example. As you move away from your schnitzels and your burgers and steaks – where it’s pretty hard for staff members to get it wrong – and you move into tacos and jerk seasoning and weird Mexican barbecues, then your staff training and things like pop quizzes and staff meals become more and more important.”
Ensuring your front of house staff know the menu back-to-front is also a safety measure, with a growing number of diners subscribing to certain dietary requirements.
“Every second person is gluten-free these days, so the pressure is on staff to know what questions to ask. Is the person on a specific diet or are they Coeliac? Are they dairy intolerant? You’ve just got to be so on top of it. That has been something that, for us, has started taking up a lot more training,” McDermott said.
3. Accommodate everyone
It might be a cumbersome task, but successful pub operators are the ones that offer an enjoyable dining experience for everyone – regardless of their eating habits.
Wirth was quite resistant to subscribing to a menu formula which has a certain number of vegetarian, gluten-free and vegan options, for example, but as time has gone on he’s simply had to relent.
“It got to a point about a year ago where we had to have a menu that has all these little codes on it … we’ve got to have, say, two vegetarian snacks, a vegetarian taco, salads need to have vegetarian options, you’ve got to have a vegetarian schnitzel,” he said. “When I started doing menus with our chefs five years ago, we didn’t have to think about that so much, but now you definitely do. You get crucified online if you don’t have all the options. People are heavily insulted in you don’t have gluten-free tacos.”
4. Hire the right chef
Cooking is only half the job, said McDermott. Modern day chefs need to be as comfortable with a spreadsheet as they are with a saucepan.
“If you can’t spreadsheet, get out of the kitchen,” he said. “Costing is so important. The first chef we had, his food was amazing but eventually when I went through the costings it was just like he was giving stuff away. It was ridiculous. His staffing was ridiculous. But Matt, who we have now, can put everything in front of you on a screen; he’ll say ‘this is what this [dish] costs, and these are my projections.’ You just need to be able to use Excel, as a minimum requirement.”
Another fundamental part of the job for today’s chefs is to ensure that what they’re plating up looks enticing and gets people talking. Of course that’s always been the case, but the difference today is that so many more sets of eyes are seeing what you’re serving.
“The things that are unique to your venue are the things that people end up taking photos of and putting on Instagram,” said Wirth. “We had this dish at The Oxford Tavern – the pub used to have jelly wrestling and topless waitresses but when we took it over we got rid of that – but we put this dessert on that’s called The Jelly Wrestle. It’s this mound of ice cream and cream. It’s like the ultimate kids’ dessert, but if there’s three people, we serve it with two scoops of ice cream so that there’s not enough for everyone and they have to basically wrestle for it. We also serve it with no cutlery and only with gloves, so you have to eat it with your hands … If you go on Instagram you can see that that’s the dish that everyone takes photos of and puts online.
“You do end up designing the menu so you have one of those sort of dishes on there.”