I chose the original name of Bar Clementine to infer a more casual dining experience. However, we found it encouraged more people to come for a pre-dinner drink instead of dinner.
The name change to Bistro Clementine places emphasis on our dining angle, and as we operate under a restaurant licence, it’s imperative we are clear in our offering.
But we have had to pivot towards daytime trade as it’s so much more consistent than evening trade; at least in Pyrmont. There isn’t a strong professional demographic living in the area, so we were pushing a rock up a hill trying to appeal to a largely retired residential area. We had many nights where we would only have a single table dining, and we just couldn’t make the numbers work; even though our Friday trade was huge.
There is certainly a trend in our area against natural/organic/ biodynamic wines! As it’s an older crowd, there is much more appeal in wines from recognisable areas. Chianti and Argentinian Malbecs are prime examples of wines that sell well as they’re exotic and comfortable enough to be popular. There is definitely a growing contingent of guests who either abstain from drinking or just want a tipple, so we have provided a greater range of options using ingredients already on hand. As we’re now open for lunch more often, I hope it helps boost average spend.
As we already have a reputation for our dinner offering, it shouldn’t be hard to introduce a revised evening trade again. However, I will look to focus our labour hours on a Friday night dinner to avoid the costs eating into my margins. We would make almost 50 per cent of our weekly income on Friday, so I plan to focus on that.
To help provide interest and bring people to the area, I will also look to provide a live music element. There’s not much else in our area aside from pubs, so we have to actively create a reason for people to walk down the road. I feel live music will appeal to the older demographic of Pyrmont and create a ‘buzz’ around our reopening at night.
We’ve been careful not to alienate our clientele by leaning too far into the fine-dining space. Most guests seem very money-conscious at the moment. Instead, our chef Bilent Peel brings a precision to the menu and execution on the plate that is hard to come by in the café realm (at least for a local neighbourhood joint). We’re not trying to re-invent the wheel; we’re simply trying to elevate common everyday menu items by lavishing care and attention to detail on them.
So far, the response has been great from our customers. I’ve learned that just because you’re passionate about something, it doesn’t translate to business success. The old adage of ‘location, location, location’ certainly holds up, and if I could do it all again, I’d save up more money to be able to afford a higher-traffic location.
The power of teamwork can also not be underestimated, and I would try to find a business partner who could help me in the daily operations of the venue and also participate in service. My silent partner is a legend, but I’ve learned I need more support on the ground, rather than my wallet. It’s a lot of responsibility to be the mainstay of the floor team as well as balancing the books, social media and business strategy in the same breath.