The cost-of-living crisis is being felt across the country and many businesses are no longer doing the numbers they used to. From high wages to rising supplier costs, venues are feeling the pinch just as much as guests are when it comes to the pocket — but amidst economic pressure lies an opportunity to bring a little light to a heavy situation.

Different styles of venues are launching tailored offerings for less that don’t waiver
on quality or experience. Hospitality speaks to Liquid & Larder’s James Bradey,
Frenchies Bistro & Brewery’s Thomas Cauquil, and Dear Sainte Eloise’s Felix Auzou
about everything from pasta nights to $2 oysters and premium wines by the glass.

Dear Sainte Eloise has been a fixture in Sydney’s Potts Point since 2017, with the
Llankelly Place wine bar open seven days a week. It’s not the type of place you’d
expect to see a bang-for-your-buck plate, but it’s a sign of the times — one where
community comes first. The 40-ish seater sells steak frites for $26 each Monday, with the special receiving a warm reception from patrons.

“People really rally around having something like steak frites that’s cheaper than the pub on a Monday,” says Restaurant Manager Felix Auzou. “Mondays are also usually a strong day for us as a lot of the places in the neighbourhood aren’t open. We roster three people on and we’re all running around and it’s bustling — it’s a nice vibe.”

The initiative is the first of its kind for the venue, which hasn’t run a pocket-friendly promotion before. The decision has paid off, and Dear Sainte Eloise has since welcomed different demographics who may not have dined at the eatery otherwise, be it related to cost, distance, or menu format.

“We have had people come from across the bridge and travel relatively far for it, and there’s a lot of singles around us, too, so we saw a big uptick in solo diners coming in — we would do around 10 single sittings, which is something I hadn’t noticed before.”

There’s been a 50/50 split of diners who specifically come to the venue on Mondays for steak frites and others who add it on to their order. “Some people are looking for a good deal, and classic Eurocentric wine bar fare is pretty enticing,” says Auzou. “We also put on by-the-glass wine specials, so some are inclined to spend more knowing they’re saving on food.”

For just $26, there’s no doubt it’s a pinch of a dish when it comes to costing, and the venue isn’t cutting any corners when it comes to the protein. The only difference between the steak frites on the regular menu is the cut, which sees scotch switched with rump.

“It’s still 200g and I don’t think ‘lesser cuts’ are inferior, they just need to be treated and cooked a little differently,” says Auzou. “It is a very tightly costed deal, and doing a larger quantity is what helps. If you are going down this route, you want to do numbers because spend per head is going to be lower.”

The special will likely stick around a little longer until the warmer weather kicks in and motivates diners to get out and about again. “I don’t think it’s something we can continue to do for a long time,” says Auzou. “We will see more people eating out
during the week soon, but that’s not to say it won’t be replaced with something else. For me personally, I like having a day of the week that is customer-focused and accessible for guests, particularly the wine, which people can be priced out of.”

Liquid & Larder is behind some of Sydney’s most in-demand restaurants — think Bistecca, The Gidley, and The Rover. The eateries each sit in a different lane spanning approachable bistro fare to elevated fine dining, with patrons flocking to Bistecca for
its signature steak and The Rover for seafood-centric dishes.

Co-Founder and Director James Bradey says the venues have all remained strong when it comes to numbers, which was part of the motivation behind the launch of Golden Hours — a series of promotional events that run across the three venues from 5pm until 10:30pm. “We haven’t really seen any changes in terms of the number of people through the door, the angle of the offering is to accommodate more patrons,” says Bradey. “We have had such high demand over the years, and we looked at how we could activate areas to increase the offerings so people can have more of the experience.”

Bistecca and The Gidley fall into the upper echelon when it comes to spend, which diners are aware of when they book a table. “Our venues have a perceived value to them, they’re not cheap by any stretch of the imagination,” says Bradey. “But guests understand they are getting value for money and it drives the desire to experience the
venues, and that is where the offering has come from.”

There are three promotions now live that reflect the ethos of each restaurant and cater to what consumers want or have requested in the past. Take the steak sandwich at Bistecca — long awaited by patrons who have wanted to eat a steak at the bar —
or the $2 oysters at The Rover, an accessible order for the prized seafood, which now has a going rate of $6-9 per oyster.

The Rover kicks off the Golden Hours program at 5pm with $10 mini martinis and $2 oysters which are available until 6pm Tuesday to Saturday. Is it possible to make money on a $2 oyster? Not in 2023, and that wasn’t the point. “It’s not a cost-effective
exercise, it’s about promotion, getting more business their way, and getting people to enjoy a great product,” says Bradey. “Our oysters are phenomenal, but it will cost a lot of money if someone orders a dozen.”

The venue has a partnership with Appellation Oysters, a supplier known for sourcing premium Rock oysters from estuaries in New South Wales. Farmers have been through immense struggles in recent years due to environmental disasters, and estuaries are still feeling the effects of dealing with contaminated waters, which means supply has been affected, as has price.

“Five or six years ago, people would order a dozen oysters and Champagne before they looked at the menu, but that doesn’t happen so much anymore with the cost of living and the cost of the product,” says Bradey. “We wanted to entice people to come in
before the venue gets too busy.”

Bistecca has the next time slot of 6–8pm Monday to Saturday with the debut steak sandwich priced at $20. There are only 20 available each night, with the sandwich teamed with Tuscan white bean paste, pickled onion, and spicy salsa verde on a potato

“We have found a way to accommodate bar guests by using a slightly different cut and using it on a steak sandwich,” says Bradey. “We only have so much space on the grill to cook the product, so we’re using a smaller cut of meat that cooks quicker. It’s also the downtime in the bar because the dining room is full.”

The sandwich is far from what you’d find at the pub, and was carefully thought out by the team. “The beans add moisture to the sandwich and the salsa verde livens it up,” says Bradey. “Most steak sandwiches taste like a leather shoe on stale bread, so we wanted to make sure it didn’t bring those memories back.”

The bar is also serving discounted drinks in line with its aperitivo angle. Aperol and
Negroni spritzes are $15 a pop, Amaro highballs $10, and bottles of the King of Sangiovese discounted by 30 per cent during the two-hour window. The Gidley has the final spot on the roster from 8–10:30pm with the steakhouse taking a high/low approach to its offering. The kitchen has created a double beef American-style burger for $20, and while the venue already has a burger on the menu, it was more about the Champagne pairing, with bottles discounted by 30 per cent.

“The Gidley is all about opulence and this is taking it to the next level,” says Bradey. “We use beef from ex-dairy cows from Copper Tree Farms with added fat and
we trialled the sauce for years to make sure it was perfect … which gives the luxe-forless offering credibility.”

The reservation-less Golden Hours program will run throughout September and has been a hit with diners looking for budget-friendly food and drink in a premium setting. “I think there are more venues doing it these days,” says Bradey. “You are getting familiar products made by a highly skilled person that are taken to a different level. A lot of the venues offering luxe, more affordable offerings are taking the same ethos.”

Frenchies Bistro & Brewery in Rosebery has recently overhauled its operating hours
and culinary offering to suit the changing habits of customers. The venue has been
in business for the past six years and has ushered in different menus along the way,
now settling on an all-day version with daily lunch and evening specials.

“We have had to adapt multiple times,” says CoFounder and Head Chef Thomas Cauquil. “We ran degustation menus during the Covid-19 years when people didn’t have cashflow issues, but now we have to offer something people can afford.”

The venue’s all-day menu features dishes such as a prawn and lobster roll and chestnut ravioli, and has ultimately resulted in an additional day of trade that has opened up the venue to diners who are looking to eat outside of typical service times.

“It’s allowed us to reach different customers and is a more casual offering,” says Cauquil. “We are open one more day, which means three extra services with the same staff. I have put their wages up and the additional opening hours help us find the extra income to allow us to keep the business going. The menu has been quite popular and there’s not one dish that stands out more than the others. It’s important for people to
have something that is good quality at an affordable price point.”

The weekly offerings span a cheeseburger with fries and a beer for $26 to a plate of
pasta with beer or wine for $25. “The idea for the weeknights was to come up with
something simpler in terms of menu so people can relate to what we’re offering,”
says Cauquil. “We wanted to try something more affordable and reach out to locals,
too. The dinner crowd has dropped in the past few months, so that’s what we have
been doing to counter the slowdown in evening bookings.”

Wednesday pasta evenings and Thursday steaks have been a success so far, with the
kitchen team changing the offering each week. “It can be relatively cheap because
we make the pasta in-house, we have strong relationships with our suppliers, and we try to have different cuts of steak,” says Cauquil. “They both are at reasonable price points, which gets people coming back. Those two nights have become our busiest and have become quite big. People like those kinds of dishes and there are a few places that are doing something similar. It pushes venues to come up with options that are good quality but cost-effective. I think putting prices up is a short-sighted solution. You can’t think customers will always follow — at some stage, the money they spend on going out is going to shrink and they won’t be able to dine out anymore.”