Venues are expanding their offering beyond food and drink — so is it the key to bringing more customers through the door? By Brittney Levinson.
Cafés and restaurants are reaping the benefits of giving customers myriad options — whether it’s artisanal groceries or a motorcycle workshop. By blending the dining experience with a complementary offering, venues can create a unique hub that can entice a new wave of customers.
Sydney venues Bel & Brio and Rising Sun Workshop are prime examples of how diversifying your offering can add a point of difference to your business. While their venues stand alone — one an Italian eatery and marketplace, the other a workshop and Asian café — they both offer a unique experience by blending multiple concepts into one.
Bel & Brio is a sprawling venue that comprises a bar, restaurant, marketplace and cellar. The concept takes inspiration from European food halls, where the dining experience is combined with a retail offering in one space.
Former general manager Read Simon says Bel & Brio is a unique addition to the Sydney suburb of Barangaroo. “We try to be different and we try to be a destination,” he says. “We are a place where you can shop, eat and drink. Everything is here.”
The 240-seat Italian bar and restaurant is open for lunch and dinner, while Coffee & Co offers breakfast and alternative options throughout the day including beverages and Italian-style pastries.
The adjacent marketplace stocks fresh produce from the Bel & Brio farm on the New South Wales Central Coast, as well as ready-made meals and local and international pantry staples. The venue also has a cellar, which features almost 2000 wines comprising Italian, French and Australian labels.
At Newtown’s Rising Sun Workshop, the dining experience is combined with a motorcycle workshop in what director Adrian Sheather calls a “hybrid business model”. He had a vision to open a communal workshop where people could work on their bikes and stick around for a meal and a drink.
“I started wondering, ‘Why isn’t there a space where I can go use tools and hang out with friends?’” he says. “My good friend and brother-in-law Daniel Cesarano always wanted to have his own café and I always wanted to get into that space as well, so I started playing with the idea of a hybrid business model and how to make those two spaces work together.”
ATTRACTING AND ENTICING CUSTOMERS
While diners pay for their bill at Bel & Brio, wait staff use it as an opportunity to encourage them to explore the marketplace. “We have a feedback card which we give our customers, and one of the points on there is, ‘Have you visited our marketplace or our cellar?’” says Simon.“When the bill comes, we give them a piece of chocolate and take a couple of minutes [to explain the concept].”
Rising Sun Workshop offers a discount to workshop members in order to keep them at the venue for longer. “We want to be an easy space to come to, so we give our members a 10 per cent discount at the café any time.
That’s not limited at all, so they could dine or snack with us as many times as they like during the week and it just makes it easier for them to get in there and work on their bikes and not have to fork out an arm and a leg for something to eat.”
Creating a community within the venue has also helped Rising Sun Workshop build a loyal customer base. The café, headed up by chef Nick Smith, has accumulated a large following for its ramen, but in recent months has expanded its dinner offering to a pan- Asian menu that allows for a shared dining experience, which is often a drawcard for consumers.
“We’ve made the dinner menu all about sharing because we were finding ramen is difficult to share and it was making the dining experience confusing and inconsistent,” says Sheather.
“We’ve gone back to what we originally wanted to do and what Nick was really passionate about, which is playing with seasonal ingredients and having dishes that rotate with the season. It’s all designed to be communal and to share — it’s something everyone can enjoy together.”
Attentive staff can be the key to retaining a good relationship with customers, in order to turn them into regulars. “Our staff are always remembering names and orders and making everyone feel welcome across the membership, and also just the Newtown locals who come and dine with us regularly,” says Sheather. “That communal vibe means our return visitation is really high as well.”
Bel & Brio’s CBD location makes it a one-stop shop for corporates, residents and tourists. With its combined marketplace and restaurant concept, the venue has the opportunity to turn diners into retail customers and vice versa.
“We’re cross-promoting between the bar, the restaurant and the marketplace,” says Simon. “You can buy items from our menu from the marketplace such as truffle oil, truffles or organic pasta.”
While 70 per cent of Bel & Brio’s clientele is corporate, Simon says their local residents are just as important, as they’re the customers who visit regularly. “We service our residents and stock everyday items including toothbrushes and dishwashing liquid,” says Simon.
Since Rising Sun Workshop opened in Newtown in 2014, the venue has grown a membership base of more than 300 workshop users who are also regular customers at the café. “All the people that come in to work on their bikes end up having breakfast, lunch or dinner or have a drink with their friends,” says Sheather. “It becomes not just a workspace, but a communal gathering point.”
Customers also use the café as a means to get into the workshop. “For people who want to get into the workshop, the gateway drug is to get a coffee or a meal so they can sit there and watch,” he says.
Sheather says the business model adds a unique element to the café that sets it apart from the competition. “We wanted to do something different, not for the sake of, but because we thought it could be done differently,” he says.
“There’s a million cafés that open every single year in Sydney, so how do you buck the trend and not do something that’s only going to last 12 months and have some kind of longevity while staying true to who you are?”
By offering a unique experience, venues can set themselves apart from the competition and build a strong customer following that will return time and time again.
This article originally appeared in Hospitality‘s June issue. Subscribe here.