Amidst the doom and gloom of the Perth restaurant scene, there are some positive stories, successful businesses and popular venues which indicate a restaurant sector in rude health and with good prospects going forward. But as WAGFG Editor ROB BROADFIELD reports, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns out there.
The Perth restaurant scene is in a state of flux, the likes of which we haven’t seen before. When the post-boom downturn hit the hospitality sector about six years ago, the wise money was on it lasting less than two years. Pundits – this one included – were of the opinion that the hospitality sector would recover quickly.
The recovery has taken much longer, but only for some. Business has been good for savvy hospitality operators who have found the right formula, while being devastating for others. This is a dynamic we’ve not seen before in the Perth hospitality sector. Typically when a downturn strikes, everyone suffers and when the economy recovers, well, a high tide floats all boats, as they say.
There is no doubt that an industry shake-out is underway. As brutal as it is for those who have had to close the doors on their restaurants and their dreams, restaurant goers are the winners with restaurants and bars which have survived and prospered through the downturn delivering some of the best dining experiences in Australia. Or as Darwin would put it, it is the survival of the fittest and consumers have never had it so good.
Having said that, it’s not as if those who are failing are second rate operators. Far from it. Some highly decorated hospitality veterans have fallen foul of the downturn – hospitality stars like one-time sommelier of the year and seasoned operator, Daniel Wegener, who was forced to walk away from his Harvey Leigh’s bar and restaurant when the business began to sink under its debts. It would appear that Harvey Leigh’s was a victim of the much publicised reversal of fortunes on the Highgate / Mount Lawley restaurant strip (which has simply fallen out of fashion) and greedy landlords have not made it any easier for besieged Beaufort Street operators. Changing habits of restaurant customers have also caught many good operators by surprise. Getting ahead of the zeitgeist and predicting the Next Big Trend has never been harder – even savvy operators struggle to keep their formula relevant and on trend. Uber Eats has also had a dramatic effect on the restaurant sector – turning restaurant customers into app ordering couch potatoes. As a consequence, people just aren’t going out like they used to. Wegener is not alone. Co-Op Dining, New Normal, Clarence’s Bar, The Butcher’s Arms, The Romany and scores of others have succumbed to the downturn in 2019.
So, is there a recipe for success? Why are some operators – hospitality identities like Andy Freeman, Paul Aron, Michael Ford, Clint Nolan, Eamon Sullivan, Nic Trimboli, property developer Adrian Fini and mega-pub entrepreneur Tim McLernon – prospering while so many are doing it tough?
The hospitality sector’s most prominent publicist and media manager and informed industry watcher, David Gardiner, says success is “fundamental.”
“It’s a fundamental thing: great food, great service, great drinks and not resting on your laurels. You’d be surprised how many operators talk about these very things but don’t actually walk the walk in their own restaurants. They think they’re delivering great service when clearly, they’re not,” David told the Good Food Guide.
“Successful operators are good at picking trends too. But they are very careful. They may see a trend in other markets, but the smart operators will only infuse new trends into their business if it is not a risk to their brand.”
“When times get tough, it takes a lot of discipline not to panic and go wildly off piste with a new look or trend. This only confuses and alienates customers,” Gardiner said.
“Why would a barbecue restaurant bring out a vegan menu and try and jump on the wholefoods bandwagon, when clearly its brand is about pulled pork, smoked brisket and mac and cheese,” Gardiner quipped.
“Successful restaurateurs are very adept and disciplined at reading the market, adapting to the market, reading their customers and reacting quickly. That’s where all the answers lie – reading and understanding customers.”
Gardiner says operators who are successful, do their research. “They know what’s happening in Australia and Internationality. They keep up with new ideas and they also utilise reporting tools so they know what’s happening in their business on an, almost, minute-by-minute basis.”
Gardiner says the WA restaurant industry is evolving rapidly and while, some venues have fallen victim to current economic vagaries, the future for the sector “has never looked more rosy.”
In recent months some brilliant new restaurants and bars have opened their doors. Mummuc in Wembley, Si Paradiso, Madalenas, Automatic, The Quarter Acre and Panama Social all launched to critical acclaim and public support.
In the next few months three big, bold projects will come on line when Rechabites Hall (Marcus Canning, Adrian Fini), the Coogee Hotel (Nic Trimboli and Adrian Fini) and The Royal Hotel (John Parker) open their doors.
It’s a new era for Perth dining.